I was always different. I never had a casual thought in my life. I pondered mysteries of life and death when I was a child. As far back as I remember I wondered about death. I stared up at the huge amber lanterns hanging overhead in church at Sunday services and wondered what would happen if one just dropped on me. I secretly almost wished it would simply to find out. It seemed that nobody had the answer. I went to confirmation class because I thought Sally Meneely was cute; by then other things were beginning to occupy my mind. Still, from about the age of nine, it become my personal life challenge. What was it really? What actually happened? Could I find out before it happened? I reasoned if I started at ten, I might have it worked out before I died. I had to start early and keep going. I cried myself to sleep the night before my tenth birthday. I knew it was going to be a long haul. My father was a Harvard wit who wrote light verse and managed the old family steel company, handling management while Maurice Roses ran the engineering. The firm began in 1857 as the stove works, “McKinney & Mann”. It reincarnated as Albany Architectural Ironworks and won renown for cast iron store fronts in the 1880’s. It assumed its third life as James McKinney & Son when my grandfather entered the firm. My father was born in 1891 and I arrived in his 54th year, the son of the son of the son of McKinney & Son and his wife, a 28-year-old ex-prep school girl who dropped out of Swarthmore to attend R.A.D.A. in prewar London. He wrote a Hasty Pudding show, was Albany’s major culture maven, never made much money, and died at 77 of Hodgkin’s disease. They named the library at the Albany Institute of History and Art after him. William Kennedy’s trilogy, including Ironweed and



The Friends of Eddie Coyle, were researched at the McKinney Library. Dad got obits and editorials in the Times Union for a week or so. He was a hard act to follow, so I followed him to Harvard but settled in Cambridge. As a child, every night when he came home from the “plant” (I once thought my father worked with vegetables and not at an office) where he “made money” (from long strips of copper with a penny diecut stamp, I assumed), he’d answer any three questions we had. Anything at all. “Where does paint get color?” “From pigments in a carrier base.” I imagined colored pigs frolicking in pens amid aircraft carriers at their naval base. He always had the answers. Every spring the carnival came to town. James E. Strates Shows would arrive and pitch its tents in a huge field at the bottom of the Menands hill. They set up a midway, erected a fun house, the side show, the thrill riders, the coin tosses, cotton candy stands and rides that towered over our heads, each tethered to a snorting diesel generator with some wild kid at the controls. It was heaven to a ten-year-old with ten dollars to spend. It was the yogi that I will never forget. With a blowtorch he heated iron bars red hot and stepped on them. He blowtorched his own mustache and nothing singed. He stood on red-hot swords. The whites of his eyes were yellow. Too much heat, I figured. My mother stayed after the show. She wanted to know just how he did it. The yogi stepped forward. You could see he was weary. No, there was no trick; it was the result of a great deal of training. Here, he was just being paid to do it. “Of course,” he said, “It will do me no good, the money. I have used my gifts for financial gain; this should never be done. There is no hope for me.” I looked into his tired eyes. They were like black marbles, shiny, lifeless, cold. A sudden chill gripped my mind. This man was telling me a truth. A gift like this was not bestowed for profit. Money made in this way is worse than no money at all. I had met my first Eastern adept, and we communicated just fine. He was working in the sideshow and faithful to a system which could both empower and undo. I was still in cotton candy land, but I knew he knew something I dearly wanted to know. If the mind could



protect this man from red-hot iron, how deep could I go and not get burned for sticking my nose in a little too far. Were these secrets locked beyond me? Worse, would unlocking them leave me, like the yogi at the sideshow, regretting a path of knowledge, condemned to travel from place to place like a carnival attraction playing to eager audiences clapping without a clue to his utter isolation? Twenty-five years and many lifetimes later the chill came back to me as the theoretical basis for conscious chronology finally clicked together one day. If what seemed to be the case were in fact true it explained the perception of time. A tool such as that would generate some real insights into the major metaphysical rules underlying all the world religions. It all made sense but the conclusions were nearly frightening. I had stumbled onto some real knowledge. I knew for sure now what happened in death, and it completely rearranged my understanding of life. Was this a gift, or a curse? I wished my father were around to ask, but he had died when I was only 22. My mother lived another twenty-six years. She was there when the firm went bankrupt and was sold to Mark Larner for the price of a parking lot. She taught natural childbirth in the forties, natural foods in the fifties, natural religion in the sixties; naturally always ahead of her time enough to be a natural amateur savant without the patience to stay with anything long enough to win professional respect. She was selftaught in medical matters, with several thousand dollars worth of medical textbooks filled with underlines, highlights and margin notes. Her last preoccupation was her eventual stroke, a subject which kept her both stressed and stressful. At 75, she agreed to try some powerful meditative techniques I had learned directly from the Dalai Lama, which included focused mental imagery. It worked, she said, and claimed her trusty Holter blood pressure monitor even recorded it. A year later, she was gone. After her first severe stroke, I read her CAT scans and was appalled at the devastation. Fully threefifths of her right hemisphere was gone for good. The attending neurologist said to expect the worst. No emotional affect and a foggy mind at best. The best thing, he said, would be another stroke. She was still



having difficulty opening her eyes. One side of her body was limp as a rag. She was speaking sometimes in French, memories of her vacations while a young woman in London, but she was coming back by the third day. I bent over her when she seemed lucid and said “I checked your scans, Mom. You’ve lost a big chunk in the middle of the right hemisphere but your prefrontal lobes are fine and the visual cortex is still there.” With her eyes still closed, she whispered feebly “Middle cerebral artery.” She was right, of course. Then she asked, “Should I do my vipassana now?” I was floored. I had taught her to recall an image from memory and study it in the mind with the eyes closed. Even with such destruction, the teaching was intact and so was her mind. I gave her hand a squeeze. “Wonderful, Mom, it’s great exercise for the visual cortex. That’s just what you need now.” Looking ahead, her eyes still closed, she said gravely, “What I need now are prayers.” She had read earlier drafts of this book and read what seemed to be simple scientific answers for a number of very basic human questions. She had taken the original chapter on death to the dying and had told me of tears, sometimes of relief, when someone realized that the end, when it came, was eternal comfort no matter what. My mother was religious, but for her the theories made sense and she shared them with those whom she knew needed some faith without the religion. Now, in the anticipation of her own death, my mother was slowly returning to the faith she had been born into. She did not die of another stroke. She died a month later from bacterial and fungal infections which had been diagnosed but not adequately treated. It was as gentle a death as one could imagine as the pathogens slowly turned her brain to Cool Whip™ one cc. at a time. At the very end, the last day I knew she was there, she looked vacantly into my eyes. I looked deeply into hers. There she was, like a person at the very bottom of a swimming pool. She was looking up, letting me know she was there, deep inside, but very far away. It carried another message. “You were right; I’m in another place.” Late that evening, I could feel her soul sighing into the night with the sounds of the late night traffic traversing the long bridge



in the distance. The next day she was flatlined. Her pacemaker had Energizer bunny batteries, however, so she stuck around for curtain calls. She was an actress, and she had the whole stage to herself. Like my father, she lived a week on heart alone and died, like him, less than a month before her 77th birthday. During that week she showed up in four different people’s dreams. “She said she was satisfied with her life, and generally pleased with the way her sons were getting along,” said Prabha, an Indian neurologist who had become a close friend and confidant during her last four years. “She said that there was one small disappointment, however; she was sorry that your book wasn’t published.” Even at her last level of mental attachment to this world, she’d known I was trying to cheer her up but she hadn’t let on, an actress to the end. The next month, Mark Larner finally gave up trying to stamp out pennies at the steel company he had bought for nickels and after 135 years, the doors at James McKinney & Son closed forever. It was over. The book has been published now or you wouldn’t be reading it. Like my father, I wanted to answer a question for all the people and by the time my mother died, the answers were in hand. At the end, she was comforted in her simple Christian faith and went, as Judy said, “to the arms of the Savior she knew and loved.” I may well too; those are my earliest memories at Sunday school, long before I was interested in girls or metaphysics. I’m not going to try to modify them. I know where I’m going, and whether it’s Buddha’s endless lifetimes or Jesus’ life everlasting, it’s not a bad trip at all. My big question was answered as far as I was concerned, but the structure which had evolved to solve the problem had taken on a life of its own. It was almost a software tool for the mind, a form of mental utility. It turns out this is a what people call a philosophy, so I called up an expert to see what we had. “Is it possible to describe a comprehensive metaphysical perspective on life that can answer the major questions in only six pages?” It was 1981, and I was still nervous about watching it all fall into place. “Sure,” he said, “but you might need six hundred to explain just how you got there.” It turns out if



we can agree to accept the concept of our personal consciousness, our mind, as a virtual reality, it leads to an entire systematic philosophy based on neuroscience. That begins to explain the two hundred and fifty pages and why The Last 10 Seconds of Eternity is a lot more than a probable explanation of what happens when we die. The last systematic philosophy that really influenced a people in the West was Thomas Aquinas’ Thomism. On the other hand, almost all Asian philosophies are essentially systematic, but so is neuroscience and computer science. We may be dealing here, then, with a time when a synthesis true to both cultures is finally possible. In other words, a mind-based theology that works for Western Christians, Muslims, and Jews could do double duty as a “neuro-dharma” in the East. The final manuscript was nearly complete when I spotted psychologist B.F. Skinner ambling through Harvard Square one day. I knew he was not well. It might be my last chance to ask him a good question so I caught up with him.. “Dr. Skinner,” I started, “I was also an English major who got caught up in brain science. You once considered writing as a career. What effect did it have on your later work?” He smiled, and there was a real twinkle in his eye. “I have lived a long and predominantly rewarding life,” he said, his words flowing in precise intonation, “And I have always taken it for granted that a large measure of my success was simply due to the fact that I could write a great deal better than most of my colleagues.” I shared a big grin with him. If you had a gift, the art was as important as the science. He died a few months later, so in honor of the craft of writing I wrote the whole thing over again just to polish it up. If I’d spent half my lifetime answering one question there’s no reason not to be elegant about it and put on the best show possible. This is an easy-to-read deep book; it took every bit of my writing skill and nothing will ever be that hard to do, or so rewarding to see completed. Just drop it into your mind and watch it unfold. The Last 10 Seconds of Eternity will make you think about things you never thought about before in ways you never thought you would think about them. That is my first promise. The second is that if someone gets the idea that this book unveils nothing that wasn’t generally stated by the philosopher



Nagarjuna and further developed by Chandrakirti, Shantideva, and T’song Khapa, they’re right. There is nothing new here; all real truths are ancient. Still, we always try to improve the explanations so that we can believe a little better whenever it’s important to have a reason to believe. In these times, it’s more important than ever. The night I met the yogi, I rode the Ferris wheel up into the night, and at the top, it stopped for a moment to let on more riders. We were suspended between heaven and earth, slowly swaying in a cool evening breeze. If we looked down we could see the entire midway, sparkling and bustling, the games, the tents, the support trucks and supply vans; and behind them the fields, the highway beyond, the Menands hill, and the starry sky reaching over our heads. It was very big and vast and then, suddenly, the diesel gives a snort, the ride goes forward, and we’re back to cotton candy land again. This is not a long book; but for some it will provide a new perspective, a Ferris wheel for the mind. At least that is my hope; and then back to the lights, the action, and all the games of life.


The First 10 Seconds of Eternity
From Heaven to Earth

The ovum is pierced. The genetic traditions of all our ancestors pour into each other. Dancing chains of DNA, the jeweled necklaces of life, embrace and entwine. Personal characteristics from both sides extend greetings, meeting their destined partners. The eternal dance begins. Twining, twirling, they are weaving into one. As they fuse, the past vanishes. Now we are. We know nothing. Yet we know everything because we are all we know. We are the one and only, the only one, the one-cell dream of a future self. We’ve arrived and we don’t even know it. It all begins here and we are very new. In a time of timelessness the fertile cell divides and divides again. Patches of genes awake with specific organizing powers. The entire composition is recorded in every cell, the plans as well. Here the feet, here the eyes, and here the brain. In the eternal darkness our home is forming. We are forming, and nothing is left to chance. We’ve been unalterably and completely ourselves and only ourselves from that moment of creation.. We’re woven into every strand. From this point on we simply locate our cells, find a place to settle in, learn a specialty, and multiply. And where is the mind? Will it reside in the toes? Those

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who lose their toes rarely lose their minds. Was a mindful spirit nestled in our budding heart? Many hearts have been transplanted without any sharing of the soul. If our mind is perceived in the brain during our life on earth it must exist in a very limited form for a while. The eyes are not complete, but there is nothing to see. Nor is there a place for memory. These capabilities will all come much later. Now is the time of quiet building. We turn in an endless universe while currents and connections less thoughtful than thought and many times more profound are becoming the exquisite networks that will help us perceive our life and introduce us to the world. We have nearly nine months to go. Nine months to create, bit by bit, the biological basis for a consciousness that will one day know our spirit, our mind, and our soul. Like all truly beautiful expressions of nature, it takes time to come together, time to bring us alive, and time to come apart again. It becomes over time, takes us into time, and it will go, ultimately, only after we have gone.

Our first being is oneness. There is no time to compare with this because without another there is no comparison. The time of oneness is always forever. The cell divides and we start the time of two. And then comes the time of four, and the time of eight. Soon, there is the beginning of a neural ridge. As each new living neuron comes into being, the growing brain becomes more complex. Three months after conception our brain is adding 250,000 new cells a minute. At birth it contains between ten billion and ten trillion of the most complex cells in our body. It is more elegantly specialized and balanced than anything in the universe known to man, for it must perceive our universe and balance us within it. We remember none of it. We can’t remember when we were all female. It is not until the third month when the male fetus produces hormones that alter his body and brain and make him fully male. Males can be feminized and females masculinized by abnormalities in a mother’s hormones during this crucial time in development.



Severe stress during pregnancy has been linked to this problem. A mother requires emotional as well as physical well-being to bear healthy children. She needs stability in the world around her. In another universe, within her, a child is moving steadily towards a meeting with a world it could never imagine, a world of time and space, the world inhabited by our human race. Controversy continues as to when we are officially human. Some use the moment of conception. Others wait until life can be sustained outside the mother’s womb. Still, all would agree no newborn is fully developed. The passage down the birth canal is not the final event. It is simply a physical interruption in our maturing process, transferring us outside our mother as soon as we could survive. Survival wasn’t something we’d ever thought about up to that point. We never expect to be born. We all naturally assume we’ll remain where we are forever. In fact at that point we can’t really expect anything at all. This is our beginning, and it is also our ending. We all start in no time, no place, all time and all space. Our name was simply “I am”. Soon we will have to leave this eternal place, and it will be a lifetime before we return. Do we remember our birth? Of course we do. Every cultural myth of the creation of mankind is a broad interpretation of birth from the viewpoint of an infant being born. The first Incas emerged into the sun from a dark cave. The first Navajos arose through a hollow reed to a “glittering place”. We are about to become again. Now we are about to take human form and be transformed into a infant in it’s mother’s arms. A blessed event for her, but a bewildering one for us.

The Creation Story
There is a dull redness during daylight. The fetus’s eyes open by the sixth month. Stretching and turning in the darkness, we grow more aware. There are distant sounds, muffled murmurings of God, closer and clearer. The fetus can distinguish words by the eighth month. In the eternal rhythm of our only universe, the

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heartbeat of our mother fills our world with the pulse of life. The rhythm was there before us, existing before we were, beyond the beginnings of time. During our life we will continually seek, be calmed by, and even sway to this same rhythm if we feel stressed or anxious. We will roll back to the beat of our very beginning, the wordless prayer we all know. This day we awaken to changes. In our eternal darkness a new spirit moves over the waters. Suddenly the world is jarred and jolted. There are great movements, voices becoming clearer and louder. The creator is about to jump-start the world for us. The powerful contractions begin. In the beginning the obstetrician said “Turn on the overhead light,” and there was light. They saw that you were good, and it didn’t take seven days. Still it was a such chaotic experience it may have seemed that way as forever suddenly ended. What a demotion in scale! A moment before we were the entire universe, the be-all, he-all, she-all and end-all. Now we’re reborn helpless as an infant, alone among others. Our minds weren’t started at birth but we must have been startled. Overdosed on natural endorphins, we were shoved down a dark tunnel into a blinding light. It had been forever in stage one and suddenly we’re gasping and blinking and kicking our way into our next stage. It’s center stage. They turn on the lights; the crowd cheers. It’s a whole new ball game. Who asked for this? We call foul. We cry. We yell. Literally, figuratively, metaphysically, and actually we are really put out. Newborns dream a lot about the old days. They spend nearly half their time in REM sleep, the dream state, even with their eyes open. They just can’t believe it. It was supposed to be forever and ever; and now this utter confusion? What happened? We keep waking to a new reality and we cry a lot about it. You can’t remember, but neither can anyone else. We talked in baby talk and we thought in baby thought. We can’t recall anything specifically because a baby brain is can’t recall specifically. Lower creatures practically up to the reptiles arrive readymade. Just hatch them and they’re off and running. Aside from their size they are as smart as they’ll ever be from their first days on earth. Here they come and off they go. More complex brains take time to fine



tune and we mature as our parts mature. We come onto this earth both unfinished and unorganized. We can’t even eat solid food for a long time. No part of us is fully detailed or final. Every part is infantile. Baby toes, baby nose, baby fingers and baby brain. They were all working or we would not have been born alive, but there is a long way between first appearance and final maturity. Every part of us had years to go. Our brain, also, was far from being organized. It takes time to become structured, articulate, differentiated and capable of consciousness as we know it. It was a baby’s brain, as capable of reflective thought as baby legs are ready for running. It still had to develop and grow further, all the time perceiving and understanding as best it could with what little it had. Given back our baby legs, we would stumble and fall. We are not ready for gravity yet. With a baby brain, consciousness is equally incapable of the sure and distinctive method of thought characterizing the adult mind. We are never going to know how it was because we’re only mentally infantile once, and we hadn’t the sense to appreciate it. Youth is wasted on the young, they say, but we may never again be as wise as when we were living in pure infantile awareness. Not that we had any alternative, of course. We are born with nearly all our neurons, our brain cells. These cells rarely reproduce. For reasons that will become clear, it is impractical to have to deal with the constant appearance of blank, immature or disconnected cells in the midst of things. Instead, there is enormous redundancy. With trillions of cells we can afford to lose a couple of thousand a day all our lives. In fact we do, but we never run out during our life. Between birth and the age of about three and a half, for each of us a little differently, consciousness is constantly on the run as our brain hooks itself up and trims itself down to size for a lifetime career in data processing. Each neuron communicates with others by sending electrical pulses down its main nerve fiber, the axon. Each axon in turn splits off into numerous hair-like dendrites, tiny sub-fibers. An axon fully grown with all its dendrites is fully “arborated” from the Latin word arbor, tree. Under the microscope it looks

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exactly like a tree without leaves, dividing and sub-dividing from major branches to the tiniest twigs. In this way each neuron can be in contact with thousands of others. With nearly all these cells in place at birth, much of our next three years is spent in the gradual development of the axons and dendrites. Our chips are in place but they aren’t wired up yet. We have to make our connections before we can make our communications. At about a year and a half, our consciousness undergoes a very significant change. Until then the brain has been using a lot of energy to push impulses down those innumerable pathways. Now glial cells go to work. From the Latin word for “glue”, these cells were once thought to provide packing, “glue”, for the neurons. They do far more. Specialized glia called Schwann cells wrap each axon in a fatty layer of insulation called myelin. This allows electrical impulses to race along as much as ten times faster using far less energy. The brain quickly adapts to the upgrade. Other glial cells do the same for the nervous system, preparing it for the complex micro-movements that will allow baby to take her first steps. It’s during this time of myelinization, as the process is called, when malnutrition can cause mental retardation. The infant brain is still very vulnerable. From our own perspective, however, things must have really done a flip as we retro-fitted our mental operating system with the new high-speed networks. We completely alter the pace and the perspective of perception and we take it for granted. In other words, no infant ever remarked on the transition of reality from what we might call our “universal infant Jungian mythology” state to the “ancient real memory” state. We are beginning to set the stage for adult reflective consciousness but we still can’t discuss it with anyone because until the speech cortex is ready, we can’t talk. The growth of tiny dendrites is abundant during this period. This creates yet another effect on perception. No matter how memory is recalled, it must be stored in some way for it to be accurately retrieved. Complex memories require a large storage space or enough small storage areas to hold the necessary detail. Luckily, the complex arborization of human neurons makes this possible. In its limitless



interconnections the brain never runs out of complexity. At maturity, with trillions of cells hooked up to thousands of others and each capable of a nearly infinite number of energy levels, there is more than enough. But there are other tricks that the growing mind plays while we are still infants. For years after we are born our neurons grow more complex. Dendrites continue to branch and grow, establishing their final networks and settling in for long years of electrochemical exercises. The brain reaches its greatest internal complexity at about the age of three and a half months. Then dendrites which are used less die off, leaving our basic neural staging. This is our unique lens of consciousness. It will eventually enable us to perceive our hopes, our thoughts, and our world for the rest of our lives. Infant activities strengthen and nurture growing neural networks as we reinforce and repeat. These tiny basic differences, through time and repetition, will eventually become the foundation of specific personality and our entire underlying image of the world. By the time we are three-and-a-half, almost all our major structural upgrades are complete. Final maturation progresses slowly until adolescence but the rapid growth phase is over and our brain structure is stabilized. Memory is no longer distorted or transformed by physical growth. As the brain’s prefrontal cortex comes on line, chronological time finally becomes possible. “Then” becomes distinct from “now” as time begins to register. Children can now consciously differentiate. They know they are little boys and little girls. In Tibet they traditionally select young lamas at about this age. It is no coincidence. The fresh mind is ready for training as we begin to learn from a clear memory of day-to-day living. We remember ourselves in our past now, and see ourselves in a future. We become who we are. All children, in all lands and in all families, gradually become self-conscious. Socialization begins. We learn we are not center stage but one among others as we come into contact with the world around us. We become more aware of ourselves and every month more out of touch with the eternal world that was formerly ours, now so long ago. Before we came into context, we had been incomparable. For so long we

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had been the total universe. Birth itself was just a major incident. For three years the world turns in sympathy with the churning activity of our budding baby brain as we weave our way to selfhood. We enter this consciousness not all at once, but by degrees. This could account for the mystery we sense in our earliest beginnings. In his poem Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, William Wordsworth wrote along similar lines over a century ago:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting The soul that rises with us, like a star Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar, Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come, From God, who is our home, Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Those first affections, Those shadowy recollections, Which, be they what they may, Are yet the fountain-light of all our day, Are yet a master-light of all our seeing.



As John Updike wrote in a 1991 essay, “The poet puts forward a considerably developed metaphysical explanation for the incomparable vividness and mysterious power of our first impressions.” There is a bit of the poet in each of us and it has its beginnings in the fantastic never-ending world we found ourselves in during our first three years of life. It was a different world, but our guardians were there to offer security. The first word for God must have been “mama” and the first man to play the Heavenly Father in our life was our own “abba”, “daddy” in the Aramaic of Jesus. It was our only world, and it was only there for us. We spent many forevers playing Adam or Eve.

Heavenly Days: From the Garden to Our Back Yard
Although this information about the maturation of the brain has been available for some time there has been little discussion about how a constantly changing mental environment is experienced by a growing child. It seems clear if the brain is growing more complex every day, so will our thinking as well. We are all familiar with the concept of infant learning. Still, we cannot hope to recall the experience of thinking with a brain which changed from month to month for three years following our birth. It’s a long way from the simple mentality of an infantile brain to a fully developed adult consciousness that uses abstract concepts, reads books, and understand words in sequence. If our brain needs four years to just get ready, from conception to brain maturity, it provokes speculation as to the nature of our earlier mental states. Three aspects of infant consciousness are typical of this rapid growth stage. First, as early brain structure is simpler our earliest memories are of a simple and more universal nature. Each day we add connections and each day things become a little more specific and sophisticated. As toddlers we experience an evolving, nearly improvisational consciousness as our awareness upgrades day by day. It’s like powering up a computer with the most basic operating system possible, then adding new chips every week

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while at the same time revising and improving the system’s architecture. The programming language would have to evolve to match the growing complexity of the circuitry. A good analogy is the language we speak. No matter where we live, we know our native language has its roots in earlier tongues. Ultimately this all regresses back to the original human languages. An American who spoke some German and studied Latin in college might guess the origins of half his English vocabulary but would be completely lost in original Indo-Aryan. Likewise, our earliest personal memories are hidden in simpler neural patterns, faded and overgrown like cracks and colors in the Rosetta Stone. We can never translate them, but we all know they’re there. Second, as additional dendrites grow out of the same cells for years, early memories will be generalized even further. No matter how memory is recalled this rule still applies. If memory is a pattern of electrochemical values, it changes as the physical structure holding it changes. If it is subtle currents in chaotic flow patterns, the entire flow changes a tiny bit whenever any part of the brain changes. With all those changes, original memories are never coming back. We all sat in chairs much taller than we are, at a dining table the size of a garage. Most of these distorted visions are scattered into obscurity by later brain growth like the destruction of ancient Asian temples crumbling under the vines that displace the stones and topple their walls. Our earliest past is past recollection but the ruins still remain to haunt our present progress and our future dreams. Third, it stands to reason recently evolved modifications to our brain structure would be the last to mature. They are based on earlier developments and appear as later improvements. The recently evolved forebrain and prefrontal cortex mature quite late. They are associated with aspects of awareness unavailable to young children until these advanced structures are ready. The word cortex is from the Latin for tree bark, and refers to the convoluted and fissured surface of the brain. The very last parts of our brain to log on are these recently evolved prefrontal structures, which retain some of their flexibility all the way



to adult physical maturity. They’re barely operational before we are three, which is another reason we can’t seem to locate early memories. Our memory locator is one of those later applications. It only runs after the memory itself is operational, and that doesn’t happen for a couple of years at least. The way our brain matures during infancy and young childhood is reflected in levels of consciousness we employ for common tasks. In 1991, neurologist Larry R. Squire, working under Dr. Marcus Reichle at Washington University in St. Louis, used a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner to determine the order in which brain structures are used during recall. Students were asked to match word fragments with a list of words they had been shown and asked to memorize. The subjects had to use not only short-term recollection but also the ability to match word stems with likely candidates in memory. A primitive brain structure, the hippocampus (from the Latin “sea horse” because of its shape), was involved with immediate recall. However, as the brain started serious word matching the more sophisticated visual cortex lit up as if the subjects were visually scanning a list of words. Finally, when the students started searching their deeper memory a “hot spot” appeared in the prefrontal cortex. This recently evolved structure seemed to be monitoring, or even directing, a detailed search through the entire file of verbal memory. The hippocampus is ancient, the visual cortex more recently evolved, and our prefrontal cortex has been doing sophisticated memory searching for less than a hundred thousand years. From instant reaction to reflective thought we activate increasingly complex levels of conscious recall, each level represented by a more recently evolved addition to our basic brain structures. New research with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has confirmed and expanded on Squire’s work. This leads to some provocative suggestions. Since human memory lacks temporal organization until a child’s prefrontal cortex is mature, we can’t develop a sense of time until fairly late in our mental growing-up process. Our earlier, more generalized perception blurs the distinctions between one day and another while recall without chronology would eliminate any planning. Months could last for years; years

The First 10 Seconds of Eternity


could be centuries. There were endless summers; eternal meditations on clouds, simple comforts and anxious scenarios. There is no sense of time in a dream either, when the prefrontal cortex is asleep. As infants we lived day to day in a dreamtime where it is always present tense. Meanwhile, due to simple brain maturation, memories of earlier images and experiences became more generalized every day. Imagine the difficulty of forming any consistent images of a world remembered so differently from month to month during years that felt like endless lifetimes. We have all the time in the world before we develop a sense of time. Not until certain advanced brain structures are nearly mature can daily events be precisely recalled or even kept as a reference. We were the center of it all as long as our growing brain was flexible. We were kissed because we were so lovable, not because mother just won twenty dollars in the lottery. What did we know of lotteries? We were spanked because we were evil. What did we understand of family politics or pre-menstrual syndrome? We were responsible for it all, since we were the main event in the only world we knew since birth. Before then was eternity. Now we were here, in this place where things kept changing. It was forever once, in such endless peace. Suddenly we were ejected and met the great powerful gods and demons who alternately blessed us to dry-diaper-heaven or condemned us to centuries in too-hotbath hell. Sometimes it seemed like forever again, alone in the desolation of a dark, lonely room only to be wakened and hugged back to paradise in a mother’s arms. All babies feel the same way. All over the world details are merely cultural. Infantile reality works identically in every little infant mind. We were all little angels, sent down to earth. We all wandered in the fabled garden, naked and unafraid. Once upon a time God really did speak to each of us, thundering from on high. Probably about six feet high, but who’s to know for certain when we’re standing there at one and a half with a brain only half-way through hookup, innocent of good or evil. Just because we fed the VCR a slice of pizza? It’s mouth was open, right? But finally the images don’t change and the sequencing becomes clear. Now we can remember clearly. We



seeing ourselves in our minds, in a past, and wonder about tomorrow. We become reflective and begin to find our place in the scheme of things. Don’t stick the vacuum cleaner hose onto the garden hose. It works, but the last time I did that Her Greatness Mom was not pleased. I got spanked. Better bring dandelions from the lawn. That gets cookies and hugs. As our brains mature into memory and clear reflective thought, we begin to pick up and retain both personal and cultural detail. It happens over a nearly endless time. The gods descend from heaven to be our mothers and fathers, great saints and demons took off their halos and horns and became older brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. Bears and monsters become dogs and dump trucks as we graduate from the collective unconscious of infancy, passing through a place of fable and mythology we can barely recall in our deep and personal past. During three years of worldly time we are weaned from the world of our oneness and rewoven into the collective fabric of our family and culture. With the arrival of our mental maturity we finally come into this world. The tree of our knowledge is now fully arborated and the mind is ripe. We begin to notice the many differences between here and there, me and he and she, good and bad. As we bloom into conscious chronological thought we are severed from eternity for the rest of our life. We are no longer all and forever. We are quickly becoming one more lost soul in the here and now. Still, even as we all come to grips with the grip of time every single one of us distantly remembers, in some general and diffused manner, those days when the gods spoke. We remember the love they gave us, the same love that we carry at the very base of our knowledge of this world. It was the earliest language we knew, the earliest source code of our soul and all our sensibilities. Our earliest memories are of our parents and their natural love. Babies are treasured everywhere. No culture in the world condones cruelty to infants. The one thing we discovered in this awful world that made the loss of eternity bearable was the love we found there. It is the only ration we can take with us when we leave the garden because it is so simple. It becomes the compass we always use to find our way back again.

The First 10 Seconds of Eternity


We know we must find our way back one day, back to our old eternal home. We can’t forget it just because we are discovering mortality. But we do. We all forget our first eternity. We nearly forget the love as well. But somehow we believe it will all come back some day. Back when days were months and months were years we have the answers to why both Jewish patriarchs and Buddhist demigods, “devas”, had such extraordinary lifespans. When we were very small there really were giants around. We find them in Genesis and all creation stories. The years before reflective understanding are different because we experience them so differently. All mythologies start with a golden age; or at least a time when the gods were making sure everything was working right. It is to this earthly plane we descend simply by growing up. Heaven was our infantile perception of our own infancy. It is our common inheritance, shared by every human on this planet. We were all there once, and we will all be there again. If we try to think back to our earliest memories, we can almost scent the breeze of timelessness beckoning over the dark threshold. This is the true time warp, the undertow of trying to remember thoughts from another era. These are times so deep and so vaguely comprehended that they are more like ancient fossils trapped in the strata of our past. We can hardly remember how long it was from age three back to age two. From two back to one is even longer. There is plenty of time for any number of “previous lives” in the collective and universal infantile mind. There is more time on the other side of birth than we will ever remember. There is no time so endless, or so deep. The haunting memories of those earlier times are still there, scattered and generalized through our waking perceptions but still alive in our dreams and our nightmares. Only if the mind simplifies can we ever re-experience that other universe, always there within us. If the maturation of the human brain forces us to forget that timeless place in order to deal with present time and space, no matter. We will rediscover it again at the right time. Whenever something makes our mind simple again. It happens every time we are taken to the limits of our perception, those times when time



stands still. In sudden terror and in ecstasy the overburdened brain slips time for a moment. Instantly we know things that we cannot express in words or even think about. It happens every time we undergo an experience so powerful it blankets consciousness, forcing us mentally into a momentary timelessness. It happens temporarily, but only momentarily. It keeps us aware that there is that place beyond human description. It will happen with eternal finality during death, the only experience in this lifetime that can loose us from the grip of time in plenty of time to make it to back to heaven forever...just before we die.


Religion and Mind Science
Old Questions, New Paradigms

“To study metaphysics as they have been studied appears to me to be like puzzling at astronomy without mechanics. We must bring some stable foundation to argue from.” — Charles Darwin

Our earliest mind knew forever and our final mind will know it again just before death. Our early experience with the infinite may be a heavenly start to our beginnings and a preview of our endings, but what about now? Let’s close the doors on our befores and afters for a moment, and reflect on what this says about the present moment. This particular present moment, if we think about it, has been going on for quite some time. Actually, it’s been going on forever. In fact, there is no time so timeless as the present moment Despite this obvious condition, our attention is often focused forward or reverse. The past can’t repeat and nobody knows the future until it happens but we’re always thinking about them. Living in the present while visualizing both past and future is what makes human consciousness such a unique way of thinking. We may be the only ones who can do it. It requires a huge amount of memory



and the ability to sequence patterns. In doing so we incidentally create the sense of time. Over time most of us will find a religion. In much less time, we will discover it is probably because of our unique human sense of time that we have any religions at all. Our ongoing reflections on the past and the future gives birth to some very deep questions. Unfortunately, answers are available only in times that aren’t available. They are the same questions science always has trouble with. We know them by heart. “Where did I come from? Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” In the broader sense they become “Where did it all come from?” “What is it all about?” “Where does it all go from here?” In India, the great Saint Shankaracharya summed up the query in five terse questions: Kastwam? Ko ham? Kutah ayatah? Ko me janani? Ko me tarah? Who am I? Where did I come from and how? Who was my eternal mother? Who was my eternal father?” Coming up with answers requires a comprehensive human raison d’etre, some definable wherefrom and whereto of life This is what prophets and philosophers do for a living. If they ever agreed, a world religion would have appeared ages ago. It hasn’t happened yet. Local answers always mirror the

complexity, art, and wisdom of local culture. Each is a local response to some universal human need to come to terms with these annoying mental puzzles. Our own conclusions, if we have arrived at them, form the foundations of our personal metaphysics (Greek, “beyond science”) our individual sense of our purpose and our reality. We call them our religious or personal philosophical beliefs. All holy books, including the Christian Bible, Jewish Torah, Muslim Koran, Hindu Vedas, Sikh Grant Sahib, Taoist Tao Te Ching, and the Buddhist Sutras go to great lengths providing mutually exclusive answers to these three simple questions. Their answers serve as the basic philosophical dividers separating the Shiite Muslims from Hassidic Jews, Billy Graham from Thich Nat Hahn, and the Pope from the Dalai Lama. If we are to find some universally acceptable explanations, they will have to

Religion and Mind Science


harmonize some rather disparate characters. Each religion has its own answers and philosophical or theological structures to support them. Each traces its authority to a divine, or at least infallible, being and they all disagree. It would be convenient to invite Jesus Christ, Mohammed, the Buddha, Moses, Lao Tsu, Confucius, Guru Nanak and Hindu lawgiver Manu for dinner and ask if they might come up with something like United Religions. Our dinner guests would probably think it was a great idea. But as each represents a higher power, they must report back to God, Allah, Tao or Dharma for a go-ahead. Things might get stuck at their own metaphysical level. There is a good reason for this. Western religions rely on mutually exclusive personal revelation to holy individuals such as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, or Mormon leader Joseph Smith from one all-encompassing God. They also tend to build on each other. Christianity added Jesus to Moses. Islam added Mohammed to Moses and Jesus. In America, Mormons added Mr. Smith and some Christian Scientists in Boston lobbied for Mary Baker Eddy. Korean Sun Myung Moon says he actually is Jesus. Followers of late Texas ex-messiah David Koresh disagree, insisting Jesus did return but ascended again in Waco. Still, most claiming conversation with a deity these days are offered Prozac® more often than prayer. Finding agreement among Asian believers is no easier. Eastern religions replace mutually exclusive prophets of God with mutually exclusive interpretations of Dharma or Tao, the eternal universal system uniting the human physical and metaphysical experience. Hinduism is technically Sanathan Dharma, or the “traditional system.” Buddha preached the Buddha Dharma, his own understanding of the way things worked. The parts are not really interchangeable. Theory and practices differ. The universality of Brahman is not the emptiness of Nirvana, and the Tao is neither of the two. All three have several major schools and dozens of sects. Getting the original sources to sit down could be even harder. Yahweh and Allah might agree to the same menu since neither enjoy pork, but Ram would have a beef with steak because Hindus don’t eat cows. Getting served could be dicey protocol; God wants no other gods served before Him. Buddha would win



points for tolerance since his monks must eat anything put in the begging bowl. But only in the morning. Still, once their divine tastes were accommodated, they would soon discover how similar their messages were at the human level, the only level we humans are concerned about. Like the larger sects of a major religion, all religions of the world today seem to lead their followers in the same basic directions. They only disagree on who is to be guide and the guidebook we are to use. The more we investigate the basic dogmas of the world religions, the more depressing it becomes. Each originates in a different land, embodies local traditions, and each is, to the devout, the only one there is. Furthermore, there hasn’t been a new world religion since the Sikh Dharma, Guru Nanak’s alloy of Muslim and Hindu faiths. The Bahai’s have tried very hard, but like Esperanto, attempts at cultural combinations this far along lack a certain spark. In all probability, the world is about due for a major religious event of some sort. In repeated oscillations periods of human reliance on technology and power seem to alternate with periods of religious revival. The blooming Renaissance provided incentives for the stern Reformation. Later, the industrial revolution promoted a working man’s Gospel and democratic sects such as the Baptists, Methodists, and the Church of Christ. Whenever it seems mankind is becoming too fascinated with material power there is a social migration back to religious faith. This often results in entirely new sects. With so many different religions around the globe and so much technology making that world go round, one can only wonder if we may be closer to new fusions than we ever imagined.

Christmas and Compassion
Since heavenly mergers remain unlikely, world affairs would be greatly improved if our earthly religious leaders came to some general agreement on not only what constitutes naughty and nice, but why, and not just because their particular scriptures say so. In a world of over six billion humans we ought to

Religion and Mind Science


have enough accumulated experience to derive some general guidelines for good human behavior. Ideally, real rules for humans would transcend local tradition and national politics. The real problem, in fact, has very little to do with this sort of wisdom. Nobody really disagrees about naughty and nice. The differences come up only in answers to the metaphysical questions and most people are interested in answers to more pressing religious and spiritual matters. Who’s getting the Christmas tree? Why can’t people live in peace? Didn’t I give at the office? Most of us don’t often think about metaphysics. In fact, every religion on earth today enjoying credibility, cultural acceptance and at least a half million followers is defined by only three areas of thought and practice. We can call the first “Cultural Ceremonies.” The second, “Applied Social Psychology.” The third and smallest area is metaphysics, the historical theology or philosophy behind it all. Realistically speaking, most religious activity in any part of the world today is taken up by the first two categories. Calendars are dotted with regional, national, and international observances of religious rites and holidays. Christmas is celebrated in Bombay and Tokyo. Muslims air shuttle to Mecca from Morocco, Marseilles and Memphis, Tennessee. Every culture has harvest festivals, saints’ days and local celebrations. If it doesn’t disrupt the local social fabric, nearly any form of personal religious observance is respected. Cultural politics may clash as in Ireland or India but as individuals we have no quarrel with another’s yearly cycle of faith and celebration provided they stay within the cultural expectations of our region. The second category of religious practice, “Applied Social Psychology,” is even less of a problem. This is because the great lawgivers gained their followings based on their insight into the universals of human behavior. They had the ability to break them down into simple rules and the charisma to convince others to observe these rules for personal and social guidance. Any savior or system too specific for broad and general acceptance ends up with a cult, not a cathedral. Mother Anne Lee’s Shakers were the first “greens”. Their love of simplicity left us plenty of fine old Shaker furniture but their practice of celibacy



left no fine young Shakers. There are no Essenes in Judea, nor Kadam-pas in Tibet. Twice as many gathered at Woodstock in 1969 as practiced Christian Science in 1996 and we can fit all the remaining Swedenborgian Christians in a small auditorium. Even the world’s largest and wealthiest organized religion, the Roman Catholic Church, is fighting for its intellectual survival. The largest single

denomination in United States is a group termed “lapsed Catholics” as millions of the once-faithful question the concept of a God the Father transmitted by celibate men wearing unusual clothing. Only theologies founded on a basic understanding of human nature, expressed in an intelligible and universal form, can last more than a generations or two. Tolerance towards others, for example, preached by all faiths, takes on a new dimension as interfaith conferences demonstrate the basic unity of the major religions. The Pope and the Mullah, the Lama and the Swami chat cheerfully. Each is technically pagan to the others, but their meetings seem so cordial and reassuring. Imagine what must be going on in their minds as they smile and pray together. This growing openness towards another’s religious beliefs becomes a social necessity when so many traditions mingle in the crossroads of our global society. We can’t convert them all, and religions getting pushy about specifics simply lose out. Most at risk are those requiring a hereditary link for membership. This trend is especially pernicious to religions which avoid conversion. Orthodox Hindus and Jews alike watch their numbers shrink each generation. By 1995, more than half the Jews in America were marrying outside their faith. Orthodox Parsees, who until recently required both parents to be Parsees, are an endangered species. Descended from the original Zoroastrians, they represent the oldest continually practiced organized religion on earth. Less than a hundred thousand survive, and there’s little any non-Parsee can do about it. Despite the tumult in the religious marketplace, at the broader levels of human behavior there seem to be no serious differences. Allah requires generosity, Jesus preaches humility, Moses and Buddha remind us not to kill and Krishna asks us to open our hearts to devotion and love. All tell us to help the weak, support

Religion and Mind Science


the poor, heal the sick, and above all be kind, compassionate and honest with each other. Their rationales may differ, but the results are the same. All world religions represent an inherent human wisdom universal in nature yet specific to each. The morality tales are always told from a familiar viewpoint by teachers we can identify with. We have no unbelievers here nor any reason to disagree. Despite the surface differences between a Jew and a Muslim, between a Hindu and a Catholic, we agree on most of the basic ethical questions of daily life and how we are to behave toward each other. Given the opportunity to sample, we would enjoy most of each other’s feasts and ceremonies. If this is so, two-thirds of the world’s faith and practice is nearly convertible from one religion to another. So what remains to quibble about? The only area religions really differ in is the third category, their metaphysics. Each religion has their unique set of answers for questions that go beyond rational or scientific inquiry. Once more, most who practice a religious faith do not spend a lot of time worrying about such things. Heavy thinkers do. Bertrand Russell, the celebrated mathematician and agnostic, once made a list of five favorite questions he was certain science couldn’t answer: “Is there survival after death?” “Does mind dominate matter or vice versa?” “Is there a purpose to the universe?” “Is there validity in the assumption of natural law?”. And “What is the importance of life in the cosmic scheme?” Only God or Dharma, we are told by religious teachers, have the answers. Furthermore, only individuals made acceptable through rituals, rites, and specialized education are entrusted with the interpretation. Clearly it’s not a dispute over the eternal questions keeping us separated. It is the variety we seem to find in the answers. That this nearly academic aspect of religious practice was the basis of so much suffering in the twentieth century will be the source of wonder in the twenty-first. Still, most religions continue to insist their specific answers are the one and only truth, despite how unlikely they may seem to others. “Religion,” as Reinhold Neibuhr, the pre-eminent American theologian of the century wrote, “is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous in



democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.” If there were a path to real wisdom that didn’t require a specific religious or cultural loyalty there should be a United Nations task force on the lookout for it. It could stop a lot of the wars. In a post-modernist world, we don’t need any more grand narratives. We just need to get along with each other.

“Neurophenomenology”: More than a Pretty Name
Scoping out new answers to unanswerable questions seems beyond the range of any one person or even a group of specialists. The wreckage of countless attempts to come up with explanations and schemas already litter the shelves of the book stores. At this time, the greatest amount of interest seems to be focused on the area of the mind sciences and the recent investigations into the general phenomenon we call “consciousness”. There is a good reason for this. No matter what faith we follow, we all know by now there are billions of people who believe otherwise. Like ourselves, they survive and even prosper. The very variety of human religions leads to a simple line of reasoning. All human cultures have religions. Their cultures differ widely but the rules of their religions are nearly identical. Is it possible that the roots of human religion may extend beneath human culture, into the workings of consciousness itself? The history of mankind demonstrates humans living in widely separated regions over time consistently develop religions with similar rules even if they disagree on the details. If this is the case, it suggest the source of religious inquiry may be internally generated. It may be a species wide “need-toknow”, expressed through a variety of remarkably similar social structures, customs and belief systems whenever human culture reaches a particular level of development. But the development of what? It would have to be the development of the ability to pose Russell’s very questions. This line of thinking leads one step further: Any conscious behavior common to all humans must be the result of something at a

Religion and Mind Science


neurological level. Only something based in the very way our human brain operates could affect all human thought so identical ideas would emerge nearly unchanged in every culture. The basic metaphysical questions could be hard-wired right into the system. This is a difficult stretch because it inserts the physical into the metaphysical. The classic dualism of René Descartes, a physical brain creating a non-physical mind, gives Hindus hives and Christians the creeps. It even give modern “consciousness” scholars the shudders. Seeking clues to the soul or the spirit in what looks like a mass of wires and plumbing puts off both Baptists and Buddhists. Still, it remains the most likely route to the source of religious experience as we perceive it. The brain is, after all, the only organ capable of conscious perception. We can’t do it with our toes or our tonsils. This detail has been obvious for a long time. The primary importance of the brain in the perception of consciousness in all its forms has been well known since the ancients. On the other hand, most of the methods the brain uses to accomplish this task have only recently been revealed to us through computerized medical technology. The rapidly growing interface between brain science and computer science has created a powerful alliance;. as a result, the architecture of the brain is finally being defined. We are beginning to read the operating manual of the mind. If this continues it is likely philosophers or theologians of the twenty-first century will be required to show fluency in mind science just as modern medical doctors must know their biochemistry. Things have changed that much. As a natural result, we are drawing closer to new philosophical insights capable of finally harmonizing scientific method and religious belief. The absolutely correct term for this is the cumbersome “neurophenomenology,” literally “using neurological science to define the nature of reality.” For this is, in fact, what seems to be emerging. “Neurotheology” has two syllables less, says basically the same thing, and links it specifically to religious philosophy. Thomas Aquinas developed his systematic philosophical system, Thomism, using Aristotelian logic to order and anchor Christian theology. Likewise. modern



philosopher and religious thinkers are starting to use the structures of mind science to provide intellectually universal, generally agreeable points to underscore their conclusions. The reason to use mind science as the foundation for a modern metaphysics is a simple argument. Since we experience only what we perceive, we should first study the structure and function of our major organ of perception, the brain itself. By learning more about the unique way we perceive reality, we may discover simple clues to believable explanations of otherwise traditionally unexplainable mysteries. There are limits to our understanding, true, but this may be because of the way the brain arranges consciousness rather than any lack of enlightenment, devotion, or grace on our part.

High-Tech Hybrids: If Ever the Time Were Ripe
If our metaphysical questions are specific to humans at large rather than any particular culture, they must be byproducts of human consciousness itself. How else would these queries appear consistently in the minds of human beings everywhere? Perhaps our elegant answers, unique to each culture, are just echoes to built-in queries, a necessary response of the human mind to something even more basic. We seem susceptible to some common mental itch, a series of questions that make the same mischief in every human mind. Looking at it logically, supposing simple generic answers were available. Would they be universally accepted? If it is the nature of human consciousness to pose these questions, any explanations would have to fit within both the cultural and personal reality of each person. Strictly individual answers to the questions could become a religion of one, pretty well eliminating both the ceremonies and the good deeds. Nobody’s going to shut down the banks for “Bob’s Day”. It makes sense, then, even in a global society most religions are not personally specific but culturally specific. However, the merger of science into the general belief systems of nearly all world cultures is finally providing us with a common language that goes

Religion and Mind Science


beyond culture. As a result, boundaries between physics and metaphysics are shifting faster than ever before. The concept of human consciousness as the result of a biochemical process is an example of a systematic viewpoint. In many areas, systematic ways of thinking seem to be overtaking the original hierarchical philosophies of the West. Top-down religions accept that an intelligent God is in charge, providing purpose and motivation for the entirety of creation. According to a systematic perspective, there is no need for divine motivation for things to happen if there is a natural system explaining it. The most powerful systematic philosophy in the world today is rarely recognized for what it is, and yet it pervades and supports every aspect of our lives. We call it “the laws of science.” From the ecology of the earth to world economic forecasts; from modern medical technology to computer, languages, systematic perspectives are emerging as basic tools in nearly every area of our understanding. This is a very good time for efficient systems. World consciousness is finally moving from local to global concerns typified by lower trade barriers, “green” movements and international refugee organizations. Continuing advances in global communication urge us daily toward some reasonable religious accommodation based on global issues and human compassion rather than local history and politics. This time around, however, “reasonable religious” may no longer be an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp”. It seems inevitable any new directions will embrace modern technology as a tool for discovery and compassion rather than a cutting edge for business or war. So far, at least in this century, the major role of technology in the service of religion has been to increase the reach of already established world faiths. The closest contender for a new sect with a high-tech terminology would be L. Ron Hubbard’s neo-rationalist Scientology. Despite the utility of some of its simpler practices, Hubbard, an excellent writer of science fiction, never came up with a believable philosophical or ethical structure. It can never, therefore, attract broad social support. Even more interesting science/religion mutants have arisen due to the recent



popularity of techno-jargon in books and seminars based on pseudo “mind-science” philosophies. From Deepak Chopra to Neuro-Linguistic Programming, each has claimed a “scientific” basis and language. It is in precisely the same manner medieval mountebanks adapted the phrase “hocus pocus” from the priest’s “hoc est corpus Christi”, Latin for “this is the body of Christ.” It created a Latin-sounding magic charm to fool village oafs into thinking they were listening to real authority. Most of these new scientific sounding philosophies are convincing only to seekers uneducated in the very science they quote to support their beliefs. The real problem has been the lack of a metaphysical structure based on legitimate scientific insight. It would have to use real science accepted by real scientists if we want to tie together reality as we experience it into some believable and meaningful pattern. The Roman Catholic catechism asks “What is the purpose of man?” and provides an answer. Until recently when it came to questions such as these, science drew a blank and religion stepped in. Most of us assume, like Russell, they are simply not answerable through science. We were happy enough to get believable answers, even if they always dodged some fairly obvious questions. For example, there is the time problem. Most answers provided by religion appear to operate within an eternal system at odds with the laws of time and space. Science is here to help us define and manipulate the laws of nature in discrete time frames. Our holy books discuss eternal truths and concepts such as the life, or the lives, everlasting. If science located an everlasting anything it would be difficult to describe or prove. Any definitive studies could not published until after the end of forever, basically summing up the situation. When compared against each other, both science and religion tend to make the other seem trivial in the most fundamental enterprises of human life.

Virtual Heresy?
If consciousness is the result of a biochemical system, the underlying rules of this consciousness must be flexible under extreme circumstances. Given the proper conditions, might we then perceive a

Religion and Mind Science


timeless eternity or a transcendental experience? The implications of research along this line of thought, taken far enough, suggest we may be about to answer most of Russell’s questions. In the process of normal brain death, for instance, we will all experience states of consciousness where the perception of both time and space are greatly altered. The real problem is if we use brain science to really answer the question “What really happens when we die?” and such a theory become generally accepted, just like Darwinian evolution every religion on earth would have to deny it or demonstrate how their holy scriptures could include it by a modern interpretation of ancient dogma. In fact, as this book itself was being written there was a serious concern that any genuine breakthrough in this delicate area could incite hostile, perhaps even violent, reactions among devout followers of one religion or another. Copernicus waited nearly until his death to publish his treatise placing the sun at the center of the solar system. Author Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding for offending the Muslim clergy. People get very emotional about their religious beliefs. Going to heaven without believing in Jesus is impossible for a devout Christian and any suggestion to the contrary is heretical. In a 1997 Gallup poll, 96% of the population of the United States believed in God and 74% in an afterlife. If heaven is in the simple mind of pre-birth and infancy, reappearing at brain death, any sinner could deny God, Christ or Prophet and theoretically if not theologically make it home free. Belief is belief after all. If an answer appears valid enough for wide acceptance, the believer is as assured of heaven by that means as by any other. Would neurological answers be inherent heresy, repugnant to the sincerely religious of every faith? There are, it turns out, few scriptural bars to contemporary explanations. So long as it doesn’t deny the religious event itself. Finding the bones of Jesus Christ, for instance, is off limits. Such a discovery would certainly prove His existence, but deny His bodily ascension, a basic item of Christian doctrine. It would forever be contested and the discoverer marked for life as the source of a basic schism in the faith. One cannot deny such basic dogma and hope to escape censure. Fortunately, finding a scientific



explanation for the experience of an eternal afterlife does not deny the event. It should, after all, be within the power of God or the Dharma to transcend us properly to our heavens and afterlives without smoke or mirrors. In the Indian holy city of Varanasi (Benares), for instance, devout Hindus believe Bhairab, the lord of the dead, allows those fortunate enough to die within the sacred acreage to avoid the tedious rounds of rebirth. He simply collapses their future lives into one amazing instant so that they can “see Shiva” immediately. This endless lifetimes express has never been scientifically investigated but any solid insights into how Bhairab accomplished his feat wouldn’t invalidate the event. Describing the method never has to reject the miraculous. It can even reinforce and revitalize the faithful to realize the divine beauty they see in a gorgeous sunset cannot in any way be diminished by an understanding of the biochemistry of visual perception. Does it require more of a stretch to suggest that if consciousness generalizes enough during brain death we will all wind up in identical mental simplicity just before we die? Could this be what the 19th century American Evangelical theologian Karl Barth had in mind when he wrote “All shall be reconciled”? Or would such speculation simply become the source of more misunderstanding and conflict? Historically, in fact, religion is usually accommodating. Although a number of preachers had problems with Charles Darwin’s theories, another Victorian clergyman, Charles Kingsley, read the recently published Origin of Species and wrote to the author, “I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe He created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore (for the time) and pro loco ( for the place), as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunae (spaces, literally “lakes”) which He Himself had made. I question whether the former be not the loftier thought.” Evolution was an idea whose time had come. Major scientific advances, as dramatic as they seem, are inevitable. Philosopher Daniel Dennett has pointed out they are not like the works of Shakespeare. If Rembrandt hadn’t painted, there would be no Rembrandts,

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but if Darwin hadn’t figured it out, someone else would have within a few years. When breakthroughs so basic occur, everyone trades up to better science. Religious sects that don’t get with the program generally die out or end up, like the Pennsylvania Amish, with horse and buggy lifestyles in a world that has passed them by.

Paradigms and Progress
The most convincing aspect of Darwin’s theory of evolution shares a basic similarity to the Copernican system. Both provided simple and connected explanations of complex and previously

disconnected observations of the world around us. In the process both triggered a basic restructuring of western scientific and philosophical thought. Such radical changes in perspective were identified and described by philosopher Thomas Kuhn as “paradigm shifts.” In a paradigm shift, a new explanation forces a fundamental restructuring of a popular viewpoint. This is exemplified by the worldwide switch to the Copernican solar system. Within a single generation the entire scientific establishment abandoned theories taught as fact for centuries. The “Copernican Revolution” was a fundamental philosophical event as well. Once man was no longer the center of the universe all sorts of other assumptions began to cave in. As it happens, religion has always maintained a connection with natural science and by the sixteenth century Christian theologians had long embraced Ptolemaic astronomy. The nested crystal spheres of the Ptolemaic universe seemed a bit lonely so medieval Christian writers proceeded to populate them with all manner of heavenly winged creatures. Having deeded the holy real estate to cherubim, seraphim, archangels and so on, it was

embarrassing to evict them all. For a time it seemed easier to evict the Copernicans, but too many telescopes confirmed their observations. No spheres., no angels. But they revealed a universe so vast and grand that it humbled human imagination while making us forever a part of it all.



Paradigm shifts are not improvements in an old system but the unexpected introduction of a new system. As such they always face opposition from institutions and individuals who represent the current popular culture. There were plenty of good universities at the time of Copernicus, but Ptolemaic

astronomers were naturally the only ones available. Once they got their hands on the new treatise most switched over easily. Others were dragged kicking and fussing into the new era. Great minds of one age sometimes simply can’t manage the mental stretch to get to the next. The great Victorian scientist Louis Agassiz discovered the ice age, explained the origin of glaciers, and collected fossils from ancient sea beds. Still, he never accepted Darwin. In any event, if scientific observation continues to support the new view a radical viewpoint becomes natural law through sheer attrition. Everyone knows the continental masses, or plates, making up the earth’s surface drifted over millions of years to become the shapes we recognize today. The man who figured it out couldn’t determine exactly what made them move and died in obscurity. Still, the logic made such sense a mechanism was soon found. Sea beds were spreading due to lava upwelling from the earth’s interior. The opposition shifted and plate tectonics, a wild idea from an unknown scientist, is as respected today as the law of gravity. Paradigm shifts are usually characterized by two qualities. First, they result from new yet

surprisingly simple changes in perspective. Second, the new idea seems basic enough, once explained, but it is always grounded in the most recent science of the time. When the actual breakthrough occurs it often happens so dramatically it’s a shock to the discoverer. In fact, all “sudden” discoveries are nearly always the result of years of tedious effort. “At first I was deeply alarmed,” wrote the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, describing his initial insight into quantum theory. “I had the feeling that, through the surface of atomic phenomena, I was looking at a strangely beautiful interior and felt almost giddy at the thought that now I had to probe this wealth of mathematical structures nature had so generously spread before me. I was far too excited to sleep.” Others report the same experience, the alarming discovery of a new and better

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way to understand some basic phenomena. The concept is always profound in implication and yet so elegantly simple in description it simply must be right. Real paradigm shifts often spread so fast it can take years for solid proof to catch up. The Copernican system, as originally published, was faulty. It required the combined work of Johannes Kepler, Tyco Brahe and Isaac Newton to both prove and improve a system so obvious it had already become widely accepted. First comes the vision, later come the details. The ideas lead to the formulas, not the other way around. “I am a physicist” grumped Einstein, “I haven’t the mathematics to prove my theories.” Still, it never stopped him from rearranging the physical universe to fit the theories he could never prove mathematically. In their simplicity, the insights behind paradigm shifts all support the example of “Ockham’s Razor,” a philosophical observation made by the fourteenth century English cleric, William of Ockham. His cutting-edge comment, “It is vain to attempt with more what may be accomplished with fewer,” has been proven again and again throughout the history of science. It was itself shaved down to the three words “nature abhors complexity.” Given two possible explanations for a phenomena, the simpler is invariably correct. The theories of Nicholas Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Werner Heisenberg all explain a wider range of physical events with a simpler overall system than previously available. Each of these new perspectives allowed new and unexpected observations to fit with accepted science by introducing a radically different, but inherently simpler, overall structure. The second aspect common to paradigm shifts is not obvious to a purely philosophical investigation. Nearly all the insights that changed the way we view the world were catalyzed by specific advances in technology. Copernicus, a gifted amateur astronomer, was using the best tools late Renaissance technology could provide. They provided observations accurate enough to suggest a theory more daring than the technology itself. Likewise, it wasn’t until the twentieth century we learned that Isaac Newton fudged some experiments described in the proofs of his Principia. The structure was so elegant he refused to let the



limitations of his own instruments, far too crude to yield such accuracy, get in the way of his discovery. It simply made too much sense to be wrong. So he ran with it even when he knew he might never be able to prove it if anyone challenged him. Fortunately, nobody did. Still, without the improved mechanics of the Renaissance, the fine lenses ground by Anton van Leuwenhoek would not have been there for Galileo or Newton. Without the improvements of Newtonian physics, the nineteenth century Michaelson-Morely speed of light experiment could not have posed new questions for Einstein to answer. Like relay runners passing the baton, finer science creates finer theory, in turn creating even finer science. It was only a matter of time before the tools of brain science provided the necessary perspective for another major shift. Copernicus’s telescope used lenses originally made for eyeglasses. He may have been the first to show how the tools of modern medical technology, borrowed to go exploring, revealed more than new sights. They made stunning insights possible. Using the newest instruments of brain science to probe for meaning and purpose in the mind, what we find is just as clear and just as stunning. As expected, these new perspectives on the nature of consciousness are surprising but simple, as radically different from traditional viewpoints as Copernicus, the high tech

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monk, was from Ptolemy, the classic philosopher. As expected, unexpected new observations continue to shift our perspective with proofs which are simple, obvious, and ultimately reassuring.

Get Real, But Where?
Most people would agree reality is what is really happening in the “real world”. We are taught this “real world” is in fact real. It has an absolute existence which we each interpret a little differently. Likewise at any moment the universe occupies a fixed location in time and space and we are located in a fixed time and space within that universe. This is the way current philosophy works. Based on recent observations, this is as unlikely as Ptolemy’s spheres full of angels. We all know nerve impulses don’t travel at the speed of light. Not only that, none of the senses are directly linked to our brain, the only organ which can provide our perception of that impulse. Every sound we hear, every scent we smell, every object we see travels through dozens of slow-me-down nerve connections and crossovers before it reaches our consciousness. Any “real world” we are experiencing actually happened at some other time. It’s nearby, yes, but always a few microseconds removed from what we perceive. All we can ever know is a momentary mental image, an imperfect echo of a recently past event. “Real time” has moved the “real world” forward while its previous image still lingers in our mind. Like the Copernican professors, it’s not easy to reverse gears in midstream but we have to accept the obvious. Before we were born, our consciousness was nearly all internally generated. From that point on, we get our information in a series of steps from sources further and further away. It’s almost funny when we think about the supposed eternal stability of the starry cosmos. What do we know? They’re thousands of light years away. The images we’re picking up are so old those stars could have all turned bright pink years ago and nobody will know for centuries. Our sun could blow up right now and we won’t know for eight minutes. You can make it to the end of the chapter. We are all so used to hand-me-down, passed-



along information we never think about it. Talk about jury rigged scenarios hashed together from second hand images collected all over the time spectrum! Real? We can’t get real from out there into here without throwing real time into a tizzy, and even then we mess it up so badly in so many ways we’re lucky to perceive it at all. It’s usually more static than sensible information. The freshest, fastest information we can get is what we generate internally. Not only that, unless something rearranges our brain it’s going to be consistent over time as well. Try to get consistency from the “real world out there” and see what it gets us. Internal information is naturally more believable than information from places where things change radically over time or even disappear. Everything “out there” does that sooner or later. This leads to the conclusion that not only is “reality” a world we lace together ourselves, but the realest and most stable part of it is strictly personal. This may be reassuring but it also means that as we are the only witness to our world we are also the only judge. It’s nearly impossible to separate truth from opinion in our own mind. We can agree with others about a lot of things, most of the laws of science among them, but “real”? “Reality” for any creature is based on an internal state of awareness. To this, we add a potpourri of third hand passed-along perceptions from “out there” and they combine to form an all-encompassing interface, the self-created virtual reality we call consciousness. This consciousness is constantly synthesized from both external and internal senses. It is perceived and understood to the extent of what’s available in any given brain at any given moment. “Reality” cannot be decreed because it can only be as it is perceived and each conscious creature perceives it a little differently. There can be average perceptions, agreements, or a consensus among people, but there can’t be an absolute reality because no two brains are ever going to put it all together precisely the same way. They can’t. Our DNA is unique, each of us is unique, and our brains are likewise unique. No human can never know any ultimate reality. We only know what appears to our mind, our personal consciousness and nobody else will see anything the way we see it. Everyone has a different view “For what is a beautiful

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woman?” said the philosopher Nagarjuna. ”To a man? An attraction! To a monk? A distraction! To a tiger? A good meal!” Even worse, depending on what else is happening in our individual lives, our minds are easily deceived or distorted in a number of ways we can learn to understand and predict. One thing for certain, if anything can be certain, the only “reality” we will ever know is personal, biased and slightly behind the times as well. It would be nice to perceive the “real world”, but we can’t. Only our world. As the world we experience is a virtual reality, it is the product of a process. As this process undergoes predictable distortions, such as in extreme stress or the generalization of brain death, we will certainly know other realities. They will be just as real to us and just as believable as the one we are experiencing now. So this is what happens? Skip to Chapter 10 if you’re curious. This is only one example of new horizons which appear as new discoveries in mind science lead us into an entirely new perspective. It is already changing the way we view ourselves and the world we live in. Since we all perceive a slightly different world it’s important to learn some basics of how we perceive. To do this, we turn to the brain itself. There is a good reason for this. Most people believe in a non-material mind, spirit or soul. Still, for us to be aware of that soul it must be held in our consciousness for examination and reflection. Our consciousness alone is making the entire universe known to us; and our consciousness itself is made known to us moment to moment only by the healthy functions of our living brain. It is here where the paradox of a physical brain and a non-physical mind, spirit, or soul may be resolved. Whether consciousness itself, which we use to perceive everything, is created by the brain or is simply perceived by the brain, it can only be as we perceive it. And we perceive it all through the structure and the function of the most complexly and intricately arranged form of matter we can ever know or imagine. Within the space of roughly fourteen hundred cubic centimeters moves the exquisite organic instrument which determines our awareness of everything else at all. Damage or stress it and we are no



longer aware of anything in the same manner. Our universe will change around us. We may have a change of heart, we can change our minds. The brain will accommodate our shifting realities without missing a beat. But tamper with any basic function of the brain and we can distort or destroy the perception, realization and projection of our entire universe for some time. Possibly for all time. Our world as we know it is in our own hands. More precisely it’s in our heads. Our brain functions at a level beyond our perception as it monitors anything we can imagine whiles running everything else at the same time. It is as close to the infinite as we will ever get close to but it is not out there. It is in us. It is the part of us that is making us who we are and what we are and it is alive and well or you could not be reading this. With those fourteen hundred cubic centimeters, the brain arranges the only world we know and perceive. This constant physical activity allows us to know our days, our nights, our dreams, our faith, our beliefs and any other thing we can know at all. We shape our world with the very lens we use to perceive it. Whenever we search for meaning we always find it where we look longest. It will always be based on whatever we believe in most. Why do we sense the universe is not really locked in time and space but moves in a constant state of creation and change? Simple answer. Because we perceive it with a human consciousness perceived through a living brain, itself in a constant state of creation and change. Nothing is static in there. Every thought has its minute effect, every moment is a little different. Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Gautama; Shankaracharya; all experienced the world through this same organic miracle, the same basic structures we each call our own. Nobody ever suggested our greatest teachers were another species or their wisdom arose from their elbows or their eyebrows. If there is a link between humanity and divinity, the interface is located here. We probably all have within us the inherent ability to experience their spiritual insights and share in their assurance. That might convince deists of their touch of divinity. At the least it provides us all a more enlightened understanding of our common humanity. Once the earth was no longer the center of the universe, people searched everywhere to find a new center of it all.

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The answers were right behind our eyes, right between our ears. Now we know. We are each the center and the creator of our own virtual worlds and if these simple arguments make a little sense, William of Ockham is smiling and your paradigm just started to shift.


As Real As We Can Make It
The Codes of Consciousness

“One ought to know that on the one hand pleasure, joy, laughter, and games; and on the other grief, sorrow, discontent and dissatisfaction arise only from the brain. It is especially by it that we think, comprehend, distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the agreeable from the disagreeable...” — Hippocrates

Our perception of the world and our thoughts about it take place in our brain at the same time. There is a difference, however, between the world we perceive and the world as it actually exists. Take sight, for instance. As early as 1709 George Berkeley, whose name adorns the famous California campus, argued that it couldn’t all happen at once. Now we know why. First a photon has to bounce off whatever and ricochet into our eye. This part happens instantaneously because all photons travel at the speed of light. It zips through the eye’s transparent lens and hits the retina, slamming into a molecule called retinol or rhodopsin, The rhodopsin acts like a spring, bending momentarily and snapping back. This is good because if it stayed bent our first look at the world would leave us blind. It’s important to

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snap back soon as possible to be ready for another photon. But the 200 quadrillionths of a second it takes for this twist-and-back is longer than it took the image to get to us. By the time the message makes it through three layers of cells in the retina and gets routed via the optic nerve to the visual cortex, the rhodopsin has already snagged a dozen new images. This is before we’ve “seen” the old one. Like a photo shop developing machine, the brain develops these signals to “sight” as fast as we feed them but it still takes a little time in the processor. As a result, at any given moment we experience a world just slightly behind “real time”. It is this perception we react to and relate with, a magic mental carpet endlessly woven on the loom of our own internal time and space. Moment-to-moment life appears seamless to us because we can’t perceive the mechanics of perception. Still, just as the magic of Disney World is limited to the ranges of the pumps and gears that move the magic kingdom, human consciousness also works within limits and according to strict rules.

From Zero to One
Consciousness awareness is a dynamic with two ingredients. The first is perception; the ability to extract useful information from the environment. Second, reaction, the manner in which this information improves our interaction with our environment. Conscious creatures, even those with limited self-

awareness, exhibit both. Limited perception naturally leads to limited reaction. Were there no need for complex reaction, we would likewise have no reason for complex perception. When a synthesis of

conscious perception and memory is guided by abstraction and prediction, we call it reasoning. It is finer levels of reasoning which we call “intelligence.” When it comes to judging consciousness in other creatures it is useful to remember these variables. The honeybee does perceive and is aware of ultraviolet light. It sees a color we cannot imagine. On the other hand, a bee’s brain is so small that it cannot adapt or decide anything consciously. It cannot reason



at all. Moreover, its minimal insect awareness must act through a nervous system of great simplicity and efficiency. Insects are practically hard-wired and entirely pre-programmed. If a bee heading in a beeline meets a breeze, increased air pressure on one side of its body trips a muscle linkage that adjust wing angles, like helicopter rotors, to compensate for sideways drift. The bee doesn’t know it happened. It’s an automatic transmission. Returning with nectar or pollen, it dances directions to the flowers, turning in patterns on the hive wall as other bees brush up to get the latest travel reports. It would be nice to imagine bees are scrupulously honest since not once has a bad bee knowingly passed on false information. In fact, they can’t. It’s the playback of a flight recorder operating the bee, turning the insect into a dancing marionette mindlessly miming something it can never understand. Aside from lacking alternatives, insect brains have little internal redundancy because insects don’t live long enough to need replacement parts. The life span of a bee is only four years, the same time it takes a human brain to mature. Ultra violet isn’t the only color we are denied. Some birds can see “red approaching” as distinct from “red receding”. It’s a shame they can’t tell us what it looks like. Eagles have greater visual acuity than we do, but they never think to nest over VFW halls and get fat. Birds can’t think. Descended from dinosaurs perhaps, but they’re still bird brains. Great perception, but not doing a lot with the information. True, crows are very clever and parrots are amazing mimics, but still it’s nothing to crow about. Human neurons are more complex, more efficient, and interconnected at a level not available to most other creatures. Observing even a single neuron going about its solitary business is to witness

extraordinarily complex activity. Aside from life support functions such as metabolizing glucose and oxygen and managing all sorts of chemicals and hormones, each cell is always communicating with hundreds, even thousands of others. Each neuron has its own unique voltage threshold. Any time its internal voltage rises high enough, the neuron will “fire,” sending an electrical pulse downstream to every

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neuron it touches. Constantly juggling pulses from other neurons, it adds its point or its pause many times a second to a dense network of interconnected neighbors. It fills the brain with a dense and chattering static of excitatory, inhibitory and modulatory messages. For any sudden activity, the time period between pulses shortens, hustling signals along in fast staccato bursts to handle temporary information overloads. It’s interesting to note the resemblance between each neuron and a tiny process computer. It has internal instructions to fire if the internal energy passes a certain voltage level. Then rest and reset. Its life is endless cycles of averaging, pulsing or not pulsing, and resting. It is a world of adding, subtracting, and calculating like a tolerant little accountant living on air and Twinkies™. Several times a second it says “something” or “nothing” and rests for a new cycle. This regrettably leaves us with an inevitable conclusion. At some level every thought, feeling, and perception has been perceived, remembered, or recalled as a complex pattern of voltage potentials and pulses. This is hardly poetic. For most it conjures up images of analog to digital interfaces chopping up the harmonious ebb and flow of life into binary bits like some virtual Vegematic™. Once again we are confronted with the popular image of the brain as the ultimate personal computer. Still, it makes sense the brain would have by now evolved to using the most efficient way of doing its work. For information processing this means simple pulse codes. The underlying basis for digital codes in computers is that as long as one has sufficient speed, it is immaterial whether the computer sees the number 357 as “357” or as a string of ones and zeroes. If the mechanism, or the organism, has to distinguish between only two possible states it’s much easier to identify a signal against the background “noise” present in an environment, silicon or cellular. Everything can be simpler and more efficient. Since computers are so exceptionally quick, they don’t mind working in digital and it’s been policy from the beginning. We had a small computer back in the dawn of such things, when the first personal computers were ten years in the future. The Varisystems 1000 was dumber than most hand calculators. All it did was



convert typed code into punched tape read by a phototypesetter. It had a program with about 800 steps, functionally lower than a sea snail but impressive for its time. The poor idiot was forced to go through its entire program every time it wanted to do anything. Everything it knew was in 800 consecutive steps, a one-way smorgasbord-on-a-track allowing no deviation. It didn’t even have the sense to go looking for anything in particular. We would type a “q,” and in one cycle it noted a “q” had been struck. It registered “q” in a little cache memory and ran through all 800 steps again to find out what this “q” would look like in Litton punch code. Finally, it located the code and jogged through the whole shebang a third time to tell the punch to do “q.” IBM made the keyboard, Photon sold the computer, and Litton Industries made the tape punch. If anything went wrong, which was not uncommon in those Neolithic times, repair wallahs from a trillion dollars worth of corporations would show up and blame each other as old stupido ran around in 800-step circles. Of course, silicon solid-state switches are very fast. So fast, in fact, our poky little computer ran through all 800 steps about a thousand times a second. It was a manic whirring electronic conveyor belt, hungry for digital bits. We’d hit the “q” on the keyboard, and zap, it was punched out on the tape faster than we could think about it. A device wolfing down digits by the microsecond doesn’t mind if 357 comes in threes, or three hundred ones and zeroes. It has all the time in the world; a relaxed sort of digital virtual reality./ Human brain speed is not nearly as fast, rarely exceeding eighty miles per hour. Yet it more than compensates with massive redundancy and complexity. Initially most computers used the model developed by John Von Neumann. Computational steps occurred sequentially. From relics like our early computer to multi-million dollar mainframes, programs executed commands consecutively. Later advances made possible a new generation of computers built on another plan. “Massively parallel” designs separate computational tasks, sending them simultaneously to a collection of powerful little processors and

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reassembling an answer at the end. Much faster. The human brain, composed of billions of data processors in a dense three dimensional matrix is massively parallel to a degree we have never even tried to explore. “Unimaginably intricate” is both an accurate description and an understatement. If we are to send information around in a complex structure, and the brain is infinitely more complex than any computer, it would be helpful to use the simplest codes possible. The binary system is simply less confusing. Pulses are “there” or “not there.” Ultimately, if these multiple, multiplexed, interwoven codes are complex enough, we can express nearly anything. As a result, all of our senses, both internal and external, send information to the brain coded into a string of pulses. From the taste buds on the tongue to the tone receptor hairs in the inner ear, everything comes to mind originally as a pattern of pulses and zeroes. It is the major business of the brain to integrate this information sequentially with any and all pertinent information available in memory and react to it, incidentally creating the grand virtual reality we call the conscious experience of life. It seems impossible a consciousness such as ours could be adequately perceived through something as simple as a molecular Morse code, but it is not as hard as it appears. Our own visual system is a good example of how neural codes can still make poetry.

Painting by Numbers
When it comes to scanning photoreceptors, the human eye is without question unique in the animal kingdom. We share the gift of color sight with very few other creatures. Every dog has his days but they’re all in murky greens, browns and grays. Aside from the ability to see over 30,000 shades of color, we are one of the few species with true stereoscopic three-dimensional vision. More important, we do much more with it than any other beast or bird. The wild turkey has a more accurate eye than even the eagle, but they’re still turkeys when it comes to the thinking part.



One of the most amazing things about the human eye is its ability to handle gradations in color and brightness from bright sunlight to shadow without altering color values. It never has to change film or rely on filters. In the brain’s visual cortex, areas that interpret the right eye are physically interwoven with the left eye in natural patterns that resemble a fingerprint or a zebra’s stripes Between our optics and the interpretive ability of the various layers of the visual cortex, the human 3-dimensional-all-color-correcting sense of sight is the number one picture show on earth. Still, it’s all in pulse codes. The cone cells in the retina register blue, blue-green, and red light. The rod cells, used mainly for low light vision, register only black and white. By a complex process known as color subtraction, not so complex as to prevent Polaroid from working it into instant color film, those three colors do the same job as the three basic printing colors red, blue, and yellow. The retina contains several levels of cells allowing it to distinguish not only colors, but edges and movement as well. With the delicate muscles and the lens of the human eye to direct and focus images on our retina, we have a natural grid to scan any visual image between the infrared and ultraviolet ranges. How subtle should we get? As it happens, each eye has about 120 million retinal cells. It’s difficult to imagine scanner operating at twelve million lines to the inch but it’s what we have at our disposal. It’s a pity to waste it on black-and-white type. Looking closely at color printing most of us can make out the color dots at 120 lines to the inch. National Geographic likes to be special and prints at 180 lines to the inch on their own presses. When we pass 600 lines to the inch the eye cannot tell printing from photography. At twelve million lines to the inch we can’t tell the visual mosaic from reality. We will never detect the color dots, the brain erases them before we see them. The patterns appearing the mental theater of the mind’s eye are seamless and totally believable. We think we see with our eyes, but it’s so much more.

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Depending if a photon hits the rhodopsin, about twelve times a second each rod or cone cell reports a zero or a one. As a result, every moment our retinal grids are broadcasting billions of bits of information that shower down through three layers of interconnected neural networks like a galactic Pachinko game, further defining shapes, shades, and shadows. This results in some signal compression but the two optic nerves cris-crossing through the optic chiasma and lateral geniculate body, back to the twin screens of the visual cortex carry eight million fibers, each chattering away in strings of pulses up to a hundred times a second. This is all happens before we see a thing. We watch films at twenty four frames a second, at thirty frames a second we watch television. They make pictures move because our own visual images are also produced frame-by-frame at the very back of the brain, but at about twelve per second. Neural activity then washes forward, picking up meaning and context from other brain structures downstream. A stroke here and the victim might see perfectly well but can’t make sense of it. Human sight is much more than a cellular camera. In 1992, a research team from Fuji Photo Film created the first synthetic retina, a sixtyfour pixel grid a tenth of an inch square of synthetic rhodopsin that can sense basic movement. We have a long way to go.

Virtually Real
The term “virtual reality” in computer language describes the scenario perceived within a computergenerated environment. Computer-created interactive environments have by now progressed to the point where cutting-edge entrepreneurs are already promoting new dimensions in entertainment. Customers don stereo-vision helmets, put on interactive gloves, clip on body-movement sensors and become part of the scene they’re watching. For a dollar a minute they can actually “be” an interactive part of a complex computer games. It’s a kareoke sort of reality, but the kids love it. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) went one further, creating complete databases by obtaining interviews with every



single participant of certain Persian Gulf battles. The result is interactive group exercises involving dozens of trainees in video helmets blasting their way through unreal encounters of the virtual kind. It seems to train them just as well and saves a lot of ammunition. Needless to say, aside from the ARPA-level boy toys, these “virtual realities” are a lot less than believable. The concept has already been exploited beyond all technological boundaries in Hollywood films and television series. Still, bearing in mind the rapid advancements in other areas of computer science, it is not unreasonable to expect within a dozen years or so we’ll enter a booth, activate a wrap-around screen, put on a pair of transducer gloves, sink into a senso-lounger and find ourselves in a jungle, on a beach or trekking the surface of the moon. For a dollar a minute, we could live in a computer generated “virtual reality” hunting tigers or romancing a movie star. There are clearly a number of levels of reality at work in such a scenario. The first level, the interactive scene, is the only one the player can and should perceive. Supposing, though, the player is a software consultant who worked on the program. She might know her virtual Tom Cruise can say lovely things but can’t hum. He might be programmed to play an instrument or even harmonize with the player but only in major and minor keys. Limits like these would be challenged so rarely few would notice. However, there are deeper limitations at work. What’s the platform? How does the program itself operate? Does Tom run in UNIX or MS-DOS? The rules for UNIX and MS-DOS differ, but they limit and structure the program itself. If a player slashing his way through a virtual jungle were a UNIX expert he might wonder what language the program was written in. Unless he saw the program itself, however, he would have no way of knowing. Some things can’t be found even if we know they must be there. Underlying the program’s language are the elementary computer instructions, the microcode. The basic computational environment of a digital computer is a binary reality. It is a quantum world of zeroes and ones, the everlasting search for “signal” versus “noise,” “there” or “not there” of minute electrical

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pulses streaming in their frantic missions through the murky chaotic static of an electromagnetic universe. No matter how complex the data or program instruction, it is ultimately known to the computer as a series of ones and zeros. “001001100111,” says the microcode. “Multiply value in memory location x by 2 and store in location y,” says UNIX. “Horizontal pixel generator, intensity double, all edge-reference shapes in “cloud” image bank, next scan,” says the program” On the visi-screen, wisps of fractal clouds drifting in front of the virtual moon on the binary beach flicker softly. So our programmer asks virtual Tom to kiss her. She knows he will. She wrote the subroutine. Finally, there are ultimate physical limitations in the nature of all computers underlying everything else. A value is either zero or it is one. There is no half-way or “maybe.” There must be constant voltage and a working memory. The silicon, metal, and plastic environment cannot be baked, burned, broken, steamed, shocked or boiled. If anything like that happens, the computer simply won’t work at all and probably won’t ever again. Good-bye Tom, good-bye beach. This illustration describes a series of interdependent invisible rule structures and logical systems limiting all forms of virtual perception. This nesting of systems within systems to create the perception of reality is as close to the meaning of the Sanskrit word “Dharma” as we in the West can get. An honest philosophy of the mind cannot speculate beyond perception, which itself dependent on a system. There is no God operating the virtual world inside a computer. It works by a system starting with a one or a zero. A similar hierarchy of rules is at work in the human brain at any time. They limit and structure a vast interconnected biological environment, the unimaginably complex system required for the perception of human consciousness. By observing some systems underlying the perception of consciousness, we may begin to determine some basic rules behind all the others. The physical ground rules of our consciousness are short, simple and absolutely certain. Our brain requires oxygen and glucose and must eliminate waste toxins. This requires a rich circulatory system. Every part has specific requirements and limitations. It can’t survive ten minutes without oxygen. Any



single blood vessel can clog or rupture for any reason. Irreparable parts could be gone forever in minutes. We might never speak again. A serious glucose irregularity can kill in two hours, a threat too well known to diabetics. Minor electrochemical irregularities can be fatal and anything interrupting blood flow will stop everything. The result is always coma followed by death. These are unalterable operating rules. Nobody has ever recovered from brain death. There are other limitations, however, that are not so obvious.

Warps in the Enchanted Weave
The brilliant neurologist Charles Sherrington often referred to the brain as the “enchanted loom,” as it seemed to create without effort the seamless tapestry of mental experience. We have progressed beyond learning the basic needs of the brain. We have reached the point where we can begin to describe both how the loom works, and why it doesn’t work quite so well in some cases. Many insights gained this way have only limited use. It’s true that we cannot see ultraviolet or hear much above twenty kilohertz but these are not limitations affecting us. The unheard and the unseen have little effect on everyday life. At the most basic level, however, nobody is suggesting the brain is operating with anything but neurons. Whatever consciousness is, we perceive it with nerve cells and not muscle fibers. We also know these nerve cells, when excited biochemically, “fire” minute electrical pulses. Information is relayed this way from cell to cell during normal brain activity. This is not a theological point or a philosophical conjecture. It’s a known fact. Since the electrochemical pulse from an activated brain cell is the equivalent of “1,” while the latency period without a pulse is the equivalent of a “0,” the most basic underlying operating imperative of our perception would be the ability to sense the difference between the two. Consciousness itself seems to arise from a sophisticated form of chaotic pattern recognition, and a pattern can only be defined by the use of contrast. To that extent, brain cells and computer chips share a common reliance on comparative functions

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to get the job done. It’s the same signal-to-noise ratio, pulse or no-pulse, dot or dash, “there” or “not there.” A neuron that couldn’t tell the difference would be as useless as a binary circuit that couldn’t tell zero from one. This delicate separation between “this” and “that”, the distinction between subject and background, ma and mu in Chinese philosophy or the Tao’s ying and yang, might seem impossible in such a mass of ongoing activity as the human brain. Still, it forms the foundations of all our conscious thought and perception. At the surface level of awareness, this basic functional operative is almost completely invisible. Like the computer’s program, it does not affect the colors of the day or the thoughts of our mind. Only when we try to think about something that a pulse-based consciousness cannot compute do we get into any trouble. Usually when we try to do this it’s either difficult or disturbing, almost as if there were something wrong with our mental focus button. Try, for example, to picture “forever.” Non-comparatives just won’t operate in our comparative cognitive environment. We know what the word means, but we can’t access a mental description for non-comparatives as we can with mental images we acquire from experience or conjecture. In fact we can’t even “think” about anything we can’t compare. Just try it. “Forever” is just one example. Human consciousness is perceived through neural communications in which everything depends on the presence or absence of voltage potentials. Since our method of cognition is comparison, we can’t communicate about any non-comparative states at all. We can’t really describe “perfect” any better than we can paint “never”. It’s a basic problem with information being passed around in a pulse form. This is not to say that we cannot have experiences or feelings in which such noncomparative mental states are momentarily present; just that we cannot describe or articulate them. Life events in which non-comparative perceptions take place are generally intensely emotional personal or religious experiences. Nobody would suggest we’re thinking clearly when we’re overcome with emotion. Emotions, true to their hormonal origin (See Chapter 7 ) feel to us like moving wave phenomena while



mental reflection and cognition behave more digitally. Our neural electrochemistry embraces both levels but we “perceive” in ways we can discuss with other people and “experience” states that we cannot ever really communicate in a rational or reflective manner. Perhaps, then, we cannot know the nature of God simply because neuron-based brains can’t handle “infinite” at all? Maybe in early infancy, but our brain grew up. From an evolutionary point of view this makes very good sense as we don’t encounter many incomparable beings in our lifetime. It also explains why it has been so difficult to communicate with the Divine, or at least why it might be hard for normal adults. Even if we could experience perfection, we couldn’t describe it to others without seeming irrational. The incomparable can happen but it won’t compute, just as we can “know” and “experience” things we can’t think about rationally or ever describe in words. This is one example of the perspective required if we are going to interrelate the truth of science and the truth of religion. There is no scientific problem with saying “The perfection of God is hidden from the understanding of man” because, neurologically speaking, the mature human brain can’t really mentally image a “perfect” state whatever it is. It is an inherent built-in design limitation of our method of perceiving consciousness and we wouldn’t be humans without it. It doesn’t really matter. We are making it through a complex world every day and it’s a blessing consciousness does as well as it does even if we can’t see the ultraviolet or describe the transcendental. Maintaining a flexible viewpoint, however, can provide space for both the “experience” of the divine from a personal point of view for those who have had such experiences and can’t deny them, and for scientific explanation as well. God alone could divine the basis and method of divine perception. The basis of human perception remains locked into the neuron-dharma, systems within systems of brain cells that pulse or don’t pulse, require sugar and oxygen to survive, and which cannot be damaged or starved or they will die, and incidentally take us with them.

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This perspective on the nature of consciousness goes beyond detailing the biological limits of the human brain. It is equally provocative to both religion and science. On one hand, it may dim the attraction of seeking perfection to realize that we can’t describe it in any detail using the human mental system. Clearly, if nobody can adequately describe it, we certainly couldn’t tell anyone what to look for. It seems we may have to “know” it when and if we find it because it may exist only in the realm of experience, unrecognizable to anyone but ourselves and dependent on the time in our life as well as the space we were in at the given moment. Still, science fares no better. If we deprive the brain of oxygen and witness our life flash before us are we in another time and space, or are we in brain failure? How can we ever know anything for certain unless our “knower” is standardized so we can be sure it’s working all right today? We know all human brains differ slightly from each other. Even worse, at the molecular level, every thought affects our brain a tiny bit. Werner Heisenberg’s classic uncertainty principle states we can’t find anything without pushing it a little with whatever we use to find it, even a photon from a flashlight. We never really locate anything quite exactly because we just moved it by finding it. If we can’t think about anything without modifying a few thousand neurons each time, what does that have to say, ultimately, about any search for ultimate answers? Won’t the questions change as the questioner ‘s mind changes in the process of working out answers? Or is our mental journey the answer itself? Questions like this are bound to arise as we start to explore some of the operational aspects of our biological lens of perception. Just as the incomparable is unthinkable, our sense of time itself is probably a fairly recently evolved capability. If we could neither recall the past nor project the future in any detail we might never wonder what happens after death until it was far too late. In fact it seems highly likely that early humans couldn’t even conceptualize most, if not all, of the hard questions requiring religious answers. Recent discoveries indicate that the ability to sequence time, generate abstractions, and understand speech



all require structures evolved within a very recent time frame. The first humans with larynxes like ours, for instance, didn’t even appear until after 150,000 BCE. For Adam to hear God’s commands, or speak with Eve, he needed a well-developed speech cortex. Clearly, any historic Eden had to appear at least past that point in brain evolution. As far as religions are concerned, not one is more than 5,000 years old. It is a rather recent phenomenon, just as we ourselves are. In fact, without many recently evolved neurological capabilities, we would not have had the consciousness to know either natural law or divine intent. And even if we did, we could not have written it, read it nor spoken about it to anyone else. If there were any religions on earth before we developed speech, certainly no one ever mentioned it.

A Colorful Line of Thought: Synthesis and Sunsets
After much heavy reading, it’s time to unwind with our inner vision, our own imagination. This chapter started with sight. It ends with a sunset. We’re are seated on a bluff overlooking a rocky California beach a little north of Santa Cruz, looking out over the Pacific. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon, the last part of the day with the sun low on the horizon. The day was hotter than we’d expected because we notice a slight sunburn our the neck. The warmth lingers, but the breeze is picking up. With the day cooling off it’s time to just relax, sit on the grass and watch the sun go down. There were showers in the afternoon and a last gathering of dark clouds are scudding slowly off to the west. Blocking the sun, they let its dying rays pierce through, here and there, as it sinks toward the sea. Then, for a moment, the lower edge of the sun begins to drop slowly from the bottom of the lowest cloud. Glowing at the edge of the sea, it suddenly brightens, bathing the bluffs and the waving sea grasses in that unique horizontal yellow light that we all have seen when the heavens are gray and the sun is blazing out from the horizon. The world is suddenly magical and glowing.

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For a moment the sun rests there, suspended, glowing in deep oranges, and then slowly sinks into the sea. Waves hiss up the sand as twilight descends, the pink cotton candy clouds rolling to magenta and fading in gentle deep purples. Shadows begin to wrap the rocks in deepening darkness, while the silver slice of a crescent moon, shining against the cobalt blue sky, begins its climb towards an evening star. The breeze is getting a little chilly now. It’s time to get up and head back to the house, the windows alight from inside, glowing against the last twilight of a soft evening as the night slowly cloaks the shore. The brain remains in silence and in darkness. Sixteen million fibers are pouring cataracts of information over an infinite grid as our mind fills with the sunset, and we are surrounded by it in all ways. We can never be aware of those billions and trillions of ones and zeroes; we can never hope to see them although they outnumber the stars in the sky. It all happens so fast and so neatly that all we see is the sunset, and only that sunset, in a depth and color possible only for our human eyes to perceive and a beauty only a human mind could know.


Time and Memory
Evolution and Chronology

Have you ever noticed how, The time is always now, Whether you’re a brown-eyed cow, Or a Mau-Mau, Or an owl? — Michael Bridge

“Where did we all come from?” “What is it all about?” “Where are we all going?” If our living brain can fashion masterpieces like sunsets in total darkness with voltage potentials, why can’t it come up with those answers? If we must solve this puzzle ourselves, a good place to start would be noting any possible similarities in the questions. From a neurological perspective there is a characteristic common to all three questions. It stands out immediately if we think about it. They can be asked only by a creature with a consciousness based on chronological, past-present-future sequential time. This sort of thinking

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doesn’t include humans until well after the age of two and would eliminate the rest of the world as well. The concept of anything going anywhere in time didn’t figure into our own life for a couple of years at least. For everything else on this planet, things just are or they aren’t. We tend to think all conscious creatures think in roughly the same manner we do but conscious chronology is something modern humans learned recently late and share with no other species on the planet. The final step in human mental evolution was learning to structure time, and only recently have we learned how we do this amazing feat, the final gift that made us mindful. In learning the mechanism of conscious sequential memory, we also establish its evolutionary history. Evidence is gathering which indicates that our sense of chronological time originates with specific brain structures located in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is very recently evolved in humans and matures well after birth. Jean Piaget, a pioneer in child psychology, was one of the earliest to observe and describe the stage in brain development when a child, watching a toy train enter a tunnel, instinctively glances forward to await its exit from the other end. Before that point as soon as the train is out of sight, it’s out of mind. Here and gone. The child immediately loses interest. The toy train’s re-appearance seconds later is unexpected and surprising. Another train? The child’s train of thought derailed when the actual train disappeared from view. The mature ability to imagine without seeing, in this case tracking an imaginary train traveling out of sight in the tunnel, was called “conservation” by Piaget and it appears by degrees. The prefrontal cortex is the last brain structure to mature so we must slide into conscious timekeeping past the age of speech. If we can’t chronologically sequence our memory,. the typically childlike perspective of constant novelty is simply unavoidable. By the age of four, however, we are clearly experiencing time in a sequential, three-dimensional framework. Gradually we learn to take such a world for granted, sequencing perception into memory and perceiving time as moving forward. This may be how we humans perceive time but it doesn’t mean time actually moves in any direction. The



brilliant mathematician Norbert Wiener, whose concepts made the modern computer possible, made this point in his seminal work Cybernetics. He reasoned if time were to suddenly shift into reverse, causing the planets to circle backwards in their orbits, a space traveler arriving on the scene could detect no difference at a planetary level. Time might well run in both directions. However, it would be impossible for forwardtime people to perceive a backward-time universe. For one thing, any stars going backwards in time would be pulling in light, not pouring it out. Wiener pointed out that it is impossible to see such stars, given the way human eyes work. Any communication is likewise be impossible, since conclusions would appear first, disassembling into meaningless parts as time receded. He concluded the only sure thing we can say about any universe we observe is that it obeys the same laws of thermodynamics we do. If we can’t detect it, how can we really know? Perhaps “black holes” are receding suns of other times illuminating planets traveling backwards towards the past. With us, however, time seems to move forward even though we’re always in the present. Classical Greeks had two words for time, chairos and chronos. Chairos is “just in time” or “at the right time” or “the time of your life”. It is personified by a little god in a moving chariot or even, sometimes, a god on wheels. Chronos is sequential time, time we perceive as passing, the chronology we use whenever we remember or predict. Once we sense chronos, we know it’s all going to be over some day. Little wonder the Greek titan Chronos is depicted as a fearsome ancient Father Time, a huge, bearded giant who consumed his own children. In India, the Sanskrit kala, time, is reborn in the fearsome Kali. The fearsome black (kalo) goddess is garlanded with skulls, drinks blood, conquers all and, just like time, gets everyone in the end. Indian parents name their little girls Durga, Lakshmi, Tara, all the great goddesses but never Kali, most powerful of all. Only Shiva, timeless Shiva, could ever love Kali. With the rest of the world remaining entirely in chairos, the last evolution of the human brain placed us as a species on a chronological escalator traveling from the past to the future. When we began to

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transform images from past presents into future predictions we found ourselves confronted with multiple mental problems arising from this new form of conscious time keeping. If our perception of chronology turns out to be a specific evolutionary step, it could expand our understanding of the mechanisms of human perception. At some point we obviously acquired what may be a unique talent and with it the host of timerelated mental problems which plague us all. The moment we are able to sense the passage of time, we never seem to have enough of it. Where did time appear? Where was the branching off that set us on the road to the mind of mankind?

Clear Memories from Chaotic Patterns
It’s not easy to cook up chronological time with a human brain. Norman Ramsey, Nobel Prize winner in physics for his development of the atomic clock, points out time is measured by periodicity. From sunrise and seasons to the picosecond vibrations of cesium atoms in Ramsey’s timekeepers, it is regular repetition that sets the foundation for the measurement of time. Unfortunately, measurement and perception of time stay linked only if the observer has no periodicity, or at least one that remains constant. For example, the brain normally runs data-gathering at the same speed as interpretation. Still, a major problem with using a biological basis for time perception is that neurons simply aren’t as tough as silicon. Things happen. The body’s response to a very stressful event is always an immediate release of powerful hormones. One effect is to speed up neural activity dramatically in certain higher brain areas. It makes excellent sense to increase the intake speed of perception when something exciting or dangerous may be happening. We need all the information we can get and we need it fast. Neural firing can increase by three hundred percent. This creates problems for consciousness. By gulping down information faster we make the world seem to slow down. This effect, described in greater detail in Chapter Nine, is analogous to speeding up a



movie camera to create the illusion of slow motion. When parts of the brain get out of synchrony, all sorts of weird things start happening. Since this indicates the perception of time must vary according to the situation, it could give Einstein a headache. Is the speed of light really an invariable if an observer’s perception of time itself speeds up and slows down from time to time? If time and space are interdependent, but time is variable relative to the observer, is space also then a variable? Could we experience infinite space during a moment of timelessness? Putting aside such speculation for the moment, it appears there are two fundamental processes basic to our perception of time. The first has to do with serial storage of neural based patterns. The second has to do with the level of detail we can recall. Once again, we can draw useful images from the field of information sciences. The ways and means of memory are absolutely essential to the science of data processing. In fact, the definition of the computer itself was originally a device able to instruct itself from an internally stored memory. The better the memory, the more complex the instructions and the functions of the computer can be. As to how patterns are created in the brain, we simply cannot do anything in a physical environment without leaving some sort of physical trace. Total and complete disappearing acts happen only in imaginary places. Every time any neuron sums and fires, something complex happens in a physical environment. There must be traces left behind, both in physical molecular changes and in the electrical conductivity at each of the connections. This is covered in greater detail in Chapter 8. Remember, the average brain has at least several hundred billion neurons. Using less than one percent of its capacity for anything from soup to nuts means at least a hundred million neurons in action. If an average neuron has about 200 dendrites, 200 outputs, a pulse down just one aborated axon tree would leave traces in 200 other neurons connected to that one cell. Adding the other 99,999,999 neurons gives us numbers like “the number of stars in a galaxy”. This is what happens the moment we wake up and smell the coffee. Smelling a cup of coffee, in fact, calls into action a full chorus of cellular choreographies, all

Time and Memory


interpreted through our personal past experience. Neurobiologist Walter J. Freeman of the University of California at Berkeley describes the process: “When an animal or a person sniffs an odorant, molecules of the scent are captured by a few of the immense number of receptor neurons in the nasal passages. Cells that become excited fire pulses through their axons to the olfactory bulb.” “The bulb analyzes each input pattern and then synthesizes its own messages, which it transmits via axons to the olfactory cortex. From there, new signals are sent to many parts of the brain, including the entorhinal cortex where the signals are combined with those from the other senses. The result is a meaningladen perception, a gestalt, that is unique to each individual. For a dog, the scent of a fox may carry the memory of food and the expectation of a meal. For a rabbit, the same scent may arouse memories of a chase, and fear of attack.” An original perception creates an instant temporary network of electrochemical trails as the pulses proliferate outward through millions of interconnected neurons. Like an after-image of a brilliant fireworks display, the remnants of the event remain in innumerable synaptic and intercellular changes created when the energy came coursing through. If we could recreate that electrochemical tapestry perfectly we would not just remember experiences. We would relive them completely. It would be a perfect replay of the entire virtual moment we once experienced. Normal recall, in comparison, recreates the image or thought with a very incomplete pattern.. If simple microscopic dots on a plastic laser disc provide CD quality music, we might wonder why we can’t simply play back our past. The reason is the neurological “afterimage” is not only imprecise, it serves only as a physical foundation for even more subtle patterns in a moving electrochemical presence weaving and pulsing throughout the brain, invisible except as a mathematical event. The brain is alive and thoroughly interconnected. The ongoing process of consciousness must be chaotic to the extreme. Still, as a pole hammered into a stream will have an effect on the entire flow of water passing around it, any



physical change, no matter how small, will affect neural flow patterns in definable ways. This is why every thought must change the flow of consciousness a tiny amount. Nothing remains unaffected. The only thing that remains constant is the flow itself, which may be comforting to Taoists and Buddhists who regard the pure undefined mind as the only thing that doesn’t change. It is this chaotic activity which makes it so difficult to compare the brain and a computer. Not only is everything alive, the working activity of the brain is simply too complex, on the grandest of scales, to be comprehensible to us. Playing back a specific picture would as hard as extracting the 9th Symphony from Niagara Falls. With the right microphones and filters one might pull a little Beethoven from the totally random “white noise”, but how can we get patterns good enough to use in any sort of comparative chronology out of such confusion? The closest we can come to pattern recognition in a chaotic

environment unfortunately requires capabilities that we ourselves cannot mentally image any more than we can see “red receding”. Although chaos may blur signal and noise to otherwise indefinable levels of confusion, patterns as pretty and defined as snowflakes can be located within these environments. The problem is that these patterns can be detected only through a sophisticated mathematical structure called “quantum time”. Since there is no way in the world a human brain can think in quantum time, there may be no final Rosetta stone of consciousness We may never witness the subtle electrochemical patterns rippling and shifting through neural channels and biochemical bridges. The final language of the mind may be indefinable because it may be undetectable. We may indeed create time with huge holographic chaotic memory patterns, but we may never locate them regardless of how hard we try. Nobel Laureate Sir Francis Crick, discoverer of the structure of DNA, turned his genius to the mind recently. Among his conclusions was one that consciousness is timed, put into discrete frames, in regular neural pulses. Still, neither he nor his colleagues at the Salk Institute has suggested any way we could comprehend human consciousness or discuss it from a critical perspective. To be conscious of

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consciousness and still discuss it at the same time would require a mind one step more complex than our own. We can imagine only what the mental lens of our mind can resolve and this is may be beyond mental resolution. Anyone who could know it or explain it completely would be operating with the equivalent of a neural upgrade and probably wouldn’t be normal enough to make sense to us. But just because we cannot look at consciousness with science does not mean that it does not exist. The Indian philosopher

Chandrakirti insisted on the distinction between “that which cannot be found” and “that which does not exist.” Consciousness certainly exists but we have to be flexible about locating it. Take angels for instance. Perhaps angels learned to avoid telescopes or maybe they just left town when Copernicus closed Ptolemy’s crystal condos. Who knows? It doesn’t mean they absolutely don’t exist, just no place where we can find them. Likewise consciousness is there but we may never be able to understand it in our own terms. Excepting in rare neurological or dream events, then, memory is rarely replayed. Furthermore, those neural patterns not reinforced by repetition or remembrance lose their linkages eventually and dissolve into the unconscious. Each moment was in sharp focus when it happened. It was all there once, senses on-line, but unless we replay sequences over and over again in our memory the patterns fade and are soon lost to conscious recall. Studies by James Kreuger of the University of Tennessee demonstrated the brain releases special substances, cytokines, during sleep. These induce special firing patterns among various neuron groups. Kreuger suspects since even major connections are not used every day, this may exercise them during sleep to help preserve important associations and connections for future use. Still, all but the most extended and repeated networks lose definition over time, and fade from conscious memory. Every instant left a true record once but depending on the intensity of the event, the attention we gave it, and the number of times we recall it, stray currents soon wash the labels off most of our files. They fragment, and become lost in our warehouse of forgetfulness where they fall apart and compost into the general unconscious



image archive we use for imagination and dreams. Hindus say that over endless lifetimes, the effects of karma, intentional activity, eventually vanish. In the endless unconscious of forgetfulness we forgive all our debts, and there all our trespasses will likewise be forgiven and forgotten. This is actually a blessing. If our memory remained conscious, we’d be constantly distracted. We are actually living in the present so it is better not to be dealing with too many after-images on the screen of our conscious perception. Asked about his reputed power to recall his previous lives, the Dalai Lama answered it was more important to be attentive to the present. His difficulty remembering previous lives didn’t bother him. “I know people who cannot remember what they did last year,” he added with a chuckle, “So not remembering an entire lifetime ago is not such a concern to me.” In the United States there was a flurry of court cases involving “recovered memories” as the basis for the prosecution of accused sex abusers. Without a doubt such tragedies occur, but as there is no way that a child before the age of three can recall anything in sequence it is equally impossible that any memory that old could survive the normal distortions of organic degradation. We don’t have hard drives in our head and there’s no “hard memory” either. If we forget it, it’s never coming back clean. If it happened before we were three, we can’t possibly remember it in any reflective context. It might seem memory networks should affect our brain cells but it’s unlikely. The physical complexity of such neural impressions could easily encode vast amounts of specific data without altering the ongoing functioning of any neuron. Like decals on a racing car, tiny molecular changes won’t affect speed or performance. Each neuron, depending on its past, carries modifications enabling it to function as part of numerous interlinked patterns, each appropriate to the moment. No single cell has to do very much or know anything at all. In a sports stadium display of rippling squares, each participant has only a few pieces of colored cardboard, a tiny part of the whole design. The images are never visible to the people actually creating them, just like neurons, each a little living voice helping sustain and modify the immense

Time and Memory


energetic chorus of patterns flowing around them and through them and beyond them. Day and night, each neuron does its digital duties. At the same time the remnants of experience, molecular reminders of our past, are modifying complex and interconnected patterns throughout the brain. Some networks fade. Others are reinforced and extended by repetition. Some interconnect to long-lost pattern trails, merging and creating new combinations energetic enough to surface as sudden thoughts, ideas, insights and intuition. There are unconscious and intricate muscle routines circulating in the cerebellum. Visual patterns lie dormant in the visual cortex, emotional patterns in the limbic system and verbal patterns in our speech centers. Once we wake to the awareness of our own memories, we take it for granted. But clear

chronological memory itself was a hard blessing, and it came together over a very long time. For that, we needed the largest brain on earth, and we needed one final tune up.

Banking on Brain Mass
There is no specific location for a complete memory in the brain. Conscious recall is as dynamic as the brain that is making it. Although the ancient hippocampus seems to have a central organizing role and the prefrontal areas store, scan and serialize, memory still remains predominantly a function of amount, complexity and organization of available brain mass. Regard the caterpillar, for instance. It hatches, eats leaves, spins a cocoon and turns into a moth if it’s lucky. Its nerve cells are much less complex than a human’s, and it may have only a few dozen interconnections for each. But still, it has over 350,000 of them. It needs every last one to operate the 200 muscles it uses to chew leaves, and that’s just for starters. The computational power of a caterpillar “brain” soars above any supercomputers we have devised. Computer-controlled assembly lines fabricate and weld automobiles with a dozen or so process computers. The very idea of 350,000 little living processors packed into one part of an insect is awesome. If computers reach such complexity they’ll probably be able to crawl about and turn into tiny helicopters. Maybe they’ll



lay eggs too. At this basic level of neural mass and complexity there is enough internal memory to run the caterpillar, but it’s all used up operating the insect. The surest test we have for conscious memory is learned alternatives and insects learn practically nothing. The longest memory observed for an insect so far is about fifteen minutes for the scarab, or dung beetle. It actually remembers to feed its young. We can employ operant conditioning using basic stimuli like electric shocks or chemicals and get responses from flatworms, but reacting to pheromones is not learning. If only they had the minds to appreciate it insects could be ideal Zen monks. Always in the now, and always in the flow, they expect nothing because nothing happens more than once. A brain that can’t recall can’t predict. No crises, no surprises. Just processes. So it goes, forever. As life forms evolved into greater complexity their brains grew to handle additional tasks of monitoring and control. As the brain grew, memory grew until it could store enough acquired information to help guide an animal’s activity from one moment to the next. Fish and lizards are difficult to train but by the time a brain reaches 20 cubic centimeters there is real learning ability. This is sufficient brain mass to retain experience and initiate vague forms of purposeful repetition to improve interaction with the environment. Complex learning appears after the reptiles. By the time the brain has grown to 150 cc’s, an average dog, there is excellent perception and memory enough to learn, recall, anticipate, and dream. There isn’t enough capacity in 150 cc’s, however, for intellectual discrimination, philosophical meaning, specific self-consciousness, or even three-dimensional color vision. Memory must be reconstructed from complex stored patterns. Most creatures simply have neither the capacity to store much peripheral detail nor our ability to sequence images into a chronology. Without a chronological consciousness, animals cannot make any conscious plans. Even chimpanzees, at 300 cc’s the smartest of the smart, never planted a garden. The immediate future is all they have in focus. If they could recall even a few seasons in sequence they could remember the progression of seed to fruit and grow their own. They never have.

Time and Memory


Self-consciousness is also limited by memory. We must be aware of the differences which help us distinguish ourselves from each other. We know ourselves clearly only to the extent that we remember and understand past experiences that affected us and formed our personality. Conscious and unconscious memories underlie all our likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. As our sense of self is dependent on the detail and subtlety of our recall, the better memory we have, the more self-conscious we can be. Animals, for all their variegated plumage and behavior, are remarkably similar to each other. If dogs had personality traits as complex as humans they wouldn’t need their noses to greet each other. Reptiles are so lacking in observable personality their manners are truly reptilian. They never say they’re sorry. They can’t. Remorse takes a lot of RAM and snake brains simply can’t run complex routines. It is possible, however, to shame a spaniel and one can actually embarrass gorillas and other great apes. Bigger brains do more than swell heads. They allow development of complex personal and social structures. In comparison an insect has no hopes, biases, or conscious predispositions at all. It never blames, never criticizes and it never complains. There is no self, no self-consciousness, no memory and no meaning. It means more to nearly any observer than it can to itself. Its parts are busy operating at full capacity getting the job done with a mere cubic centimeter of brain matter. There is no recall. There is no time for recall. Without recall there is no time, no beginnings and no endings. The silkworm mechanically pulps some mulberry leaf. A bird overhead sees the silkworm and recalls a meal. A human notices the bird, and predicting what birds will do to silk worms, shoos the bird away. The silkworm mechanically pulps some more of the mulberry leaf, a living fiber manufacturing plant. No time for silly things. No time at all. It pulps some more mulberry leaf. No time like the present; no memory of the past, no hope for a future. Without a thought, the silkworm munches on. Overall increase in brain mass provides room for better memory and a more refined consciousness. However, it should be stressed evolution never equates sheer bulk with intrinsic value. If this were the case,



we would all be under the rule of blue whales. Elephants have much larger brains than humans but they’re still using their noses for hoses and working for peanuts. In terms of species, from an evolutionary standpoint, whales are closely related to seals. A very big seal isn’t more complex than a small one. It’s just more seal. There is a lot of whale to operate, which increases the mass of the brain since more body cells need management. Whale learning has been observed and shown to be at “seal level”, the aquatic equal of a smart dog. This is enough memory for a sperm whale to dive down to where it expects to meet a giant squid for takeout. The giant squid, with less memory than a paper clip, never expected anything in its life, far less a large whale in the way. No matter how many pounds of neurons a giant squid was born with, if they’re squid neurons it’s going to be squid smart and no more. Squid nerves are like cables, so big they’re visible. Compared to that level of simple consciousness even fish are savants. In this world, it seems, any species that can’t remember will sooner or later serve as dinner for the rest.

Upgrading to Primate
It’s been accepted since Darwin that survival often requires novel adaptation to a new environment. The last great evolutionary surge in brain development began taking place about sixty million years ago when some daredevil mammals got tired of being chased up trees and decided to stay there. If we are going to spend a lot of time jumping from limb to limb with a small bobcat after our tail, things will definitely need improvement to avoid becoming cat dinners. First, it’s important to shift the eyes to the front, like a cat, for the three-dimensional depth perception necessary for judging where that limb really is. Second, good color vision is also at a premium. It helps to get the live branch rather than the dead one. It’s a long drop if we can’t tell murky brown from murky green. Both aid in finding fruit and catching insects, increasing food supply as well as safety.

Time and Memory


The brain’s visual area was pressured to expand as so much visual data had to be analyzed for trajectories. Most animals rely on their noses, but we can’t smell our way across thin air. A little off the jump, a little off on the grab, and it’s one more pre-tenderized tiger lunch on the jungle floor. Dealing with gravity in high places is high risk for anything weighing more than a bug that doesn’t have wings to flap. It must have rained animals until the forebrain evolved enough mass and complexity to transform kamikaze marmosets into decent monkeys. In the process, the cerebellum doubled in size as well, accepting new specific and more discriminating control from the higher forebrain areas and creating a much finer tuned muscle response. Luckily for lemurs and eventually for us, adding brain tissue is a simple genetic adjustment. At the fetal stage human brain tissue is so undifferentiated it can been clipped and transferred to other patients like living tofu. It grows right in. “More brain tissue” is easy evolution. It’s much simpler than adding wings or claws. It can also happen much faster than we once thought. Anthropologist Karen Milton, of the University of California at Berkeley, studied two kinds of ape and made a surprising observation. Apes have a basic diet of fruit and leaves. Fruits provide high energy but are low in vitamins. Leaves are high in vitamins but require long digestive tracts to process them. As a result, an ape with a shorter digestive tract must eat more fruit to make up for its inability to extract nutrients from leaves. Since most trees bear fruit for only a part of the year, even in equatorial climates, a fruit-eating monkey needs a complex feeding strategy full of searching and returning. On the other hand it doesn’t take any recollection at all to locate leaves in a jungle. Spider and howler monkeys are about the same size but spider monkeys are fruit hunters while howlers are leaf munchers. Although the apes weigh about the same, spider monkeys are carrying around brains nearly twice as large as the howlers. Not being food may have driven us into the trees, but once we went arboreal, locating food was the next environmental pressure for a larger



brain. The extreme difference in brain size between two species of modern monkey shows how quickly the brain can grow if certain conditions and diet are present. One of our most distinctive evolutionary steps was the rapid development of the forebrain’s specialized ability to recall and redirect complex muscle sequences. Although this originally evolved to allow us to perform repetitive tasks without having to re-learn them each time, our enlarged visual memories became adept at storing visual cues occurring during the learning experiences. If we find a good fruit tree, we don’t want to forget the way back. A simple mindless playback may be easy for bees, but their memory chip is so tiny it only holds the most recent trip and it’s forgotten a few minutes later. All primates, once mature, have much longer memories and they all seem to focus it the same way we do, with the prefrontal cortex. When a monkey starts to learn a task, the greater amount of brain activity takes place in structures linked directly to the event, the visual and motor control areas. When the activity is repeated, however, the forebrain becomes the more active area. Once a task is learned the primate forebrain seems to sequence and trigger behavioral routines far more complex than in other species. Just like human subjects who activate word searches from the forebrain when retrieving verbal information, this sequential searching ability may be related to the necessity to recall, replay, and modify a repeated sequence of muscle patterns. This is exactly what comes into play when we learn how to play a piano, dance a tango, or take a flying leap to a swaying branch in the treetops. It was essential for grabbing swinging vines. If we jump to where it is right now, we die. If we jump to where it will be, we live. The brain must unconsciously calculate a future event and sequentially fire off millions of muscle movements in order to get us there. From a computational viewpoint, it’s calculating: “Vine there now, vine moving this fast, will be about there if I jump NOW!..Got it!.” Prediction can be a life saver even at the unconscious level.

Time and Memory


By the time apes had their aerial acts perfected they were using the most complex muscle sequences on earth. Since they hadn’t grown any new organs there were few changes in the operational parts of the brain that manage body functions. It was the finely tuned higher brain areas which evolved. Sequential pattern comparison in color and three dimensions requires giga-giga-terabytes of operational memory. In response, our visual and discriminatory areas added large amounts of new mass and specialization. The brain of the porpoise may be as complex as man’s, but its complexities are more associated with hearing than sight. Primate brains are primarily visual: monkey see, monkey do. And we are so smooth at it. No other creatures are better at strong, controlled, and yet delicate movement. Cats couldn’t dance if they tried. It took all of evolutionary history to reach the mass and complexity of the original primate brain forty million years ago. Since then there have been dozens of diversions from the original line. Some adapted into gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys and baboons; from ground dwellers to neo-arboreal apes. Most of them get through life with a combination of wits, claws, fangs and muscle. Some lines opted for miniaturization and speed, becoming old-world monkeys and remaining in the trees. Our branch of the family, homo, out on the African grasslands, bet on brains. To make it possible, they started to eat better. To be precise, they began to eat more meat. It’s now well known chimpanzees, given the opportunity, will readily kill and eat small animals. It is more likely our earliest ancestors were not strategic hunters but scavengers, grabbing the remains of kills brought down by the larger predators and pounding the bones with stones to extract anything edible. “It was not just meat, but fat and bone marrow,” explains Leslie Aiello of University College in London. “Such easy to digest food requires smaller stomachs and intestines, which use up less energy. That surplus began to feed our brains, which began to grow significantly.” Natural law suggests enough is enough. Still, nobody has suggested recalling elephants or giraffes for big noses or long necks. The extremes are there to define the norm and there was nothing normal about our unusual brain. It just kept



growing. The mass of the brain began to spiral upwards, doubling its size with billions and billions of new cells. By two million years ago, it passed 450 cc’s, and it was still growing. By a million years ago, it had doubled again to 900 cc’s, and still kept on growing. By 150,000 years ago, it had nearly reached its current size, a staggering 1,400 cubic centimeters of mass and complexity well beyond human understanding, capable now of the conscious perception of time as well as space. The brains in our skulls weigh more than entire monkeys. Each made up of hundreds of billions of the most exquisitely formed neural cells on the face of the earth. If it took only 150 more cc’s of these hyperconnected neurons to give apes short term prediction, recall and correction, what must have happened to human consciousness as mankind is trapped on a full ten times more? We cannot imagine. We’ve been thinking with 1,400 cc brains since we started to imagine and we won’t have appreciably less until we die. What finally made us fully conscious humans, much less than 100,000 years ago, was when the human prefrontal cortex, already directing the smooth orchestration of muscle movement, perfected an ability to store, sequence, and monitor huge patterns into conscious recall, imagination, and prediction. At a certain point in time, our growing brain mass reached the point where the detail and energy of the patterns made them perceptible, and finally even directable. We know it happened, and we are finally beginning to understand just how it happened.


The Caravan of Dreams
Abstraction and Imagination

“The past no longer exists. The future is nowhere to be found.. And how can the present move from place to place?” — Nagarjuna

In the primate brain, the ability to predict is located in the same general area for both apes and man. Patricia M. Goldman-Rakic of Yale Medical School, a prominent authority in this field, observed when this area is damaged a monkey’s ability to search for a remembered location vanishes. It can use familiar routines to jump to a tree with fruit in clear view, but it can’t remember to return the next day. Just like when the young child’s toy train enters the tunnel, out of sight is literally out of mind. Piaget’s “conservation” vanishes. This encouraged scientists to investigate similar phenomena among humans. It was known some individuals suffering strokes in the prefrontal cortex lost interest in the future. One researcher who investigated this condition is D. H. Ingvar, a Swedish neurophysiologist. Ingvar made his reputation with studies of mental activity using computer displays of structures activated during specific mental processes. In 1985 he wrote “Lesions or dysfunctions of the frontal or prefrontal cortex give rise to states characterized by ‘loss of the future,’ with consequent indifference, inactivity, lack of ambition, and inability to foresee the consequences of one’s future behavior. It is concluded that the

The Caravan of Dreams


prefrontal cortex is responsible for the temporal organization of behavior and cognition due to its seemingly specific capacity to handle serial information, and to extract causal relations from such information.” In simpler terms, damage or serious problems in the prefrontal cortex eliminate the future in some people. They can’t imagine a future so they make no plans and don’t care about it. It follows the prefrontal cortex is the structure that sets our consciousness into a time frame. It apparently does this by a unique ability to relay commands in a serial order. By creating this chain of events in consciousness, it may also establish causes. The brain’s timekeeper had been located. Why didn’t someone pick up on this sooner? There is a good reason. New computerized techniques for mapping and scanning the living brain have revolutionized the field of brain science more than the telescope changed astronomy. “Virtually everything we have learned about memory over the centuries has come from the abnormal, from people with brain injuries,” explains Larry R. Squire, who conducted the verbal memory study in the first chapter. “Now we are able to carry the study to normal people, and study normal behavior, and that is very exciting.” Mortimer Mishkin, a prominent researcher in perception and memory at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, agrees. “The information you can get is unbeatable. It has opened a window into the brain we did not dream of ten or fifteen years ago.” Using similar tests on humans, Goldman-Racik obtained similar results. In some manner, the prefrontal cortex caches information in a sequential form. While it’s there, we alter it on line to create a sense of prediction. Without these selfcreated sequential images pulling us forward in life, our conscious attention can’t get out of the present tense. Two neurologists, P.J. Eslinger and A.R. Damasio, described dramatic changes in the behavior of a man whose prefrontal area was removed due to a cancerous tumor. Highly intelligent, he continued to test well but his daily activity was completely without internal direction. “EVR (the patient’s initials) was not spontaneously motivated for action. As he awoke, there was no evidence that an internal, automatic program was ready to propel him into the routine daily activities of



self-care and feeding, let alone those of traveling to a job and discharging the assignments of a given day. If these goals were presented externally and repeatedly, they triggered the expected actions. But when external recall mechanisms provided by relatives and friends failed, or when the environment failed to challenge him with situations that demanded a response, he resumed his relative goalless, unpressured existence. He seemed to have no goals to aim for, no expectations, and without repeated directions and urgings from others, he would simply sit about doing nothing until something directly presented itself to his attention. Only then would he react.” It was the same phenomena Ingvar had noted in Sweden. EVR was completely off the track of time. Goldman-Rakic went on to describe this unique ability of the prefrontal cortex to supply information not available from our immediate perceptions. “The prefrontal cortex can play this role,” she explains, “because of its elemental capacity to access and hold ‘on line’ information relevant to the task at hand. It seems possible that many integrated higher order functions including language, concept formation, and planning for the future may be built on this functional element.” Given enough memory capacity, the prefrontal cortex can “access and process information derived from present events and/or long term stores, to guide a response over the period of seconds, minutes, and possibly hours required to fulfill the command.” In other words, combining perception with memory it creates consecutive mental images, the projections and predictions that keeps our conscious mind directed towards our long term goals.

Beta Rollout: The Brain Updates Again
Four million years ago, groups of small brained early African hominids began to move out onto the savannas. Further out into the grasslands, trees were scarce. The heat was intense, but by standing up they could reduce the heat burden. They shed their insulating fur and developed evaporative cooling by

sweating. Over three million years they slowly became completely bipedal, a balancing act any bird can do

The Caravan of Dreams


but one primates mastered rather late. They also developed varicose veins, lower back pain, and pot bellies as everything sagged downward. The rewards, however, were great. With both hands free to carry weapons, tools, food, and babies, they started traveling. “Once you get apes up on two legs,” remarked University of Massachusetts researcher Roy Larick, “they’re going to be everywhere before you know it.” Some bipedal hominids had made it from the Sudan to Chad by 3.5 million years ago. Other groups of early humans, generally referred to as homo erectus, were using stones for pounders near the Three Rivers Gorge in China’s Sichuan Province as early as two million years ago. These early ancestors continued to improve slowly but they never evolved beyond stone chipping as high tech. Bipedalism and the improved cooling system also promoted the final growth of our brain. As our erect posture tilted our necks up, the skull bulged outward in all directions becoming nearly a hemisphere with a face. By now every learned muscle routine was inadvertently hustling huge networked patterns through sequential steps. The neural architecture was in place for something to give it conscious guidance. We would soon have something to think about. The larynx began to descend, making a human vocal tract possible. We would soon have something to talk about. About 200,000 years ago a new species of early humans, homo sapiens, began to hunt the savannas of prehistoric Africa. Although the term means “thinking man,” these humans didn’t initially demonstrate any noticeable social or mental differences from other early humans inhabiting the earth at that time. Over thousands of years, some moved north. They began to communicate more specifically, pressuring both the speech cortex and the larynx to further development. By 85,000 BCE, one group settled in the Middle East in the vicinity of modern day Israel. Everything remained stable for another 40,000 years. At first they apparently coexisted peacefully with migrating groups of Neanderthals emigrating from the Caucasus. The end of the ice age had melted earlier barriers of snow and ice and east European Neanderthals were moving south through the opened mountain passes.



There they found the Cro-Magnons who had moved up from Africa. For 50,000 years, ten times the length of our modern era, they lived as neighbors. They were appear to have been uninterested and uninvolved with each other, keeping to their own kind and rarely interbreeding. Then something remarkable happened that changed everything. Some Cro-Magnons started to act like modern humans. The time had finally come for homo sapiens sapiens, man with a mind that could consciously search for reasons; the only mind with the time and the capability to imagine answers. In fact, human conscious chronological time itself had arrived just in time, and it gave us all the time in the world. From then until now we have all searched our pasts and we have all planned our futures. As families, groups, tribes and nations we learned to examine our yesterdays and plan our tomorrows. This changed our entire relationship with the world, with our fellow humans and with ourselves. As the ability became more and more a part of the human mental repertoire, it mirrored the way this talent matures in each of us between the ages of two and four. As children, our ability to recall and imagine becomes available only gradually. We do not recall waking up one day and just choosing to remember or predict. As we mature, we shift by degrees into human reflective consciousness. It seems likely we did so as a species as well. It is even possible that our unique ability to recall our past and imagine possible futures in chronological sequence could have appeared and disappeared several times before it finally took hold. It took a hundred thousand years to work out all the bugs, but these things take time. The neural staging had to come first, both the unusually massive brain and our arboreal predictive sequencing routines. As visual memory is involved, we developed the ability to sequence more information than simple muscle routines, allowing us to guide and modify them as when we practiced a skill. However, our ability of modern humans to use the prefrontal cortex for a form of mental radar still required a last sophisticated refinement to make it work. We needed to learn how to manipulate abstract ideas and thoughts as well as images and memories.

The Caravan of Dreams


Thinking with Abstracts
To create our conscious awareness of a future we use images to represent future goals and destinations that don’t exist yet. We call this imagination. The prefrontal cortex, which directs sequential activity and monitors mental searches may also be involved in the creation of abstractions, the subtle and invisible catalysts we use to create our imagination, our expectations, and our future. Wiener demonstrated time doesn’t move in any particular direction, so it’s up to each individual to judge by observation. We also know our perception of time varies depending on how fast the brain is operating. Time can stand still if we get excited enough. Most aspects of time, in fact, seem to be more internal than external in nature. Since our brain is so interconnected, the process of implementing patterns in sequence, allowing us to perform learned activities, could have evolved into the ability to observe and sequence memory itself. The prefrontal cortex monitors the search for patterns, as it does for word associations, so it must be able to monitor patterns created by sense impressions. The total of these impressions, according to Crick, are gathered about ten times a second in a natural rhythm, fading as new ones appear. If the prefrontal cortex “notices” things, this would start to create a vague sense of time moving forward as soon as the brain matures enough to hold an image. Even when we are not searching our minds for specific recall it creates generalized illusion similar to the receding view in a rear-view mirror. Even if a car is not moving, the illusion of forward movement can be created by projecting receding images onto the rear view mirror. In a like manner, the receding impressions of the present moment fading into memory create the constant illusion of time itself moving forward. In fact, we and our mind are stationary in time. And although there is something real in front of a car to see, nobody sees the future. We can only imagine future scenarios, both short and long term. Since they’re all different it’s quite obvious we must be making most of it up ourselves. We agree about general phenomena. The sun’s going to rise tomorrow. But for the important issues, nobody else knows what we



expect to do after we get up tomorrow morning. This is because the only place we can find models for personal goals or expectations is our own memories. Our perfect imaginary future, for instance, always seems to be a version of our childhood with ourselves in charge. So why doesn’t the future appear to be our past in direct reverse? If our furthest imaginary future is a reflection of our deepest remembered past, won’t images line up identically on opposite sides of our internal time track? They don’t because we use abstractions to create original scenes from past experience. Abstract concepts such as “red”, “angry”, or “wet” come unattached to any particular image. We can’t locate them with our senses but we need them to create new arrangements from the parts we have available. “If I paint my bookcase red, I imagine it would look like so” is an example. What we are doing is constructing a visual “transform” in the mind, a new image created by altering an existing image. Changing one color for another isn’t hard. What’s harder is knowing what “red” is. If we can’t find “red” unattached to something in the world around us, how can we find it in the bubbling chaos we call consciousness? It’s hard to imagine looking for something that doesn’t exist in time or space. Even Sherlock Holmes would give up. It makes no sound, it leaves no trace.

Playing With Pictures
Red, blue, up, down, big, small. We need these abstractions to create every future image we imagine, every step in our reasoning, every reflective thought we think. They allow us to speculate, wonder, and prepare. The best example of what the unaided mind can do with a lot of images and abstractions is a dream. All dreams are created inside the brain, so all the images must come from our own memory. Why are they so different from what we experienced? It’s the same technique that creates charging dinosaurs in a Spielberg movie. Any image in memory is being recalled together from a lot of different parts. It’s not

The Caravan of Dreams


hard to isolate and manipulate any part of the code at the program level before it gets to consciousness. For computers this means serious number crunching, but to animate a dinosaur we just massage the visual data that makes the dinosaur image. There are complex programs using formulas for perspective, angles, colors, and shading to do this as well as to merge landscapes, age houses, or animate flowers. The human brain is infinitely better at this. It switches angles, toys with sensation, and paints impossible pictures in the visual cortex while we do our unconscious cytokine tuneups at night. Whatever is on our mind can get tossed into the soup and it can stir up quite a illusion. “That was a scary day at the office but I do it for the family,” we think as we drift off to sleep. Conscious awareness is off-line. The primeval hippocampus can’t send images to the visual area but it hasn’t completely settled down yet. “Scary” it mumbles in basic emotional brain code, “But home” The visual cortex gets the message in vague way but it can’t do a search with the prefrontal cortex dozing so tosses some images around. “Scary?” Try swamp, try bugs, try stuck lawnmower, try bulldozers, big bulldozers, “home?” try house, “scary?”, try car accident, bugs, swamp, home, take ’em all!” The dream flashes into a nightmare with us in a car stuck in mud in the front of our house with a bug as big as a bulldozer bearing down on us. If we want to have more say in the matter there are both Western and Eastern techniques for “lucid dreaming” to give us better control in our dreams. Still, all dream images are created at the moment from memory manipulated every which way. The so-called “out of body” experiences are good examples of dream states taken too seriously. It’s easy for the mind to create “flying through the air” and not much harder to create the world the dreamer seems to be flying through. Dreams of flying about on Jupiter on the other hand are bound to be inaccurate. It bears no relation to any human experience so there’s nothing in memory to even start with. For humans, carrying out a conscious strategy requires an entire collection of these internally altered images to check our progress towards our goals. We call these images our expectations. To arrange these



images, we use the prefrontal cortex’s ability to cache and hold sequential patterns. It’s a progressive reference, a moving mental clipboard to peek at while sequential tasks are being performed to match our internal model. We actually can’t imagine any real future. Everything happens in the present instant in our own minds. Setting goals, we begin with a real image like the actual bookcase from memory. We use “red” as an abstract and manipulate the existing pattern in a cache memory to create an image of what it “might” look like “if” we painted it red. All future images are formed this way, by creating complex alterations of memories we acquired from experience. But where do our abstracts come from? The same sequencing ability we developed to repeat complex activities may also create abstractions, the tools we use to make the personal futures we carry about in our minds. To direct sequential activities, the prefrontal cortex automatically arranges patterns to occur in order. This is so we can tie our shoes without thinking and not find ourselves absently untying them. The sequential arrangement of stored patterns creates a forward chronology in the present moment as each muscle movement occurs. In the human brain this compression of “future event images” in the present moment stacks patterns associated with large neural networks temporarily in sequences like decks of cards. Since every planned activity requires thousands of sequential patterns in the cache memory for a moment, there’s bound to be crosstalk. For instance, walking down a familiar street each cerebellar pattern associated with walking implements a single muscle movement. In the cache memory monitored by the prefrontal cortex, current visual input from the eyes is compared to a string of visual transforms created from memory as we walk along. If the house doesn’t visually enlarge as we approach, matching the transforms, something’s wrong. However if progressive views of the approaching house match our expectations, we’re nearly home. We all have our own ideas of the way something will be when we finish it, but we check our progress with images of expected stages on the way. With such huge patterns cached in sequence, some information must travel

The Caravan of Dreams


between them while they are waiting or during implementation. As both habitual and learned activities unconsciously implement millions of sequenced patterns, we’ll have plenty of occasions to juxtapose those containing common aspects. If we sequence patterns linked to memories containing a red bird, a red flower and finally a red house, “red” would register three times more than other parts. If this happens enough times, “red” itself will begins to leave its own sub-imprint, eventually creating its own small pattern to be folded into the memory. We’d finally call something “red” after someone named the color for us, but that’s just the word label we use. We still can’t locate a “red” without something to attach it to. Except in the mind. The mind knows red, it has special color systems to color things used by all creatures with color vision. In the human alone, we know what we’re talking about when we say “red”. It’s not just a part of a picture. It has it’s own reality in our virtual reality. We lift it off red objects and use it abstractly to color anything we want in the imagination. Since the creation of these little patterns doesn’t require sense inputs, new information can now be internally generated. Reverberation between similar aspects of patterns cached together for a moment spin off these numerous sub-patterns like little grains of quantum sand transforming into abstract pearls. It’s been done before. Compressing chaotic patterns together in sequence at brain level mirrors the way galactic shock waves compress interstellar hydrogen to create sparkling fields of budding stars. In our case, the bright rewards are tiny patterns that simply mean “up” or “good” or “dark”, available to transform memories into imagination. The size and complexity of the patterns we cache has a great deal to do with this. Our massive increase in cerebral capacity provided unprecedented detail. The final evolution of the human prefrontal cortex made it possible for the largest and most detailed mental patterns on earth to be monitored sequentially in a regular and ongoing manner. Over time, this virtual information, these abstract concepts, begin to appear in the mind. Networks grow in response to these new patterns and further extended them.



“Red” is an abstract. But once “red” has it’s own pattern we can imagine what a “red bookcase” will look like simply by altering any image of the bookcase in memory with our pattern for “red.” The imaginary red bookcase appears in the cache memory, synthesized by a simple transform. Comparing birds and flowers to derive abstract colors is a simple example of this capability. More complex images can also be compared, sometimes with interesting results. If one notices the way the earth seems to be drawn to the sun and compares it with the image of a falling apple being drawn to the earth, one might synthesize an impressive abstract such as the law of gravity. Newton himself once said “Genius is but the gift of analogy.” The gift of conscious sequential comparison, which came with our most recent brain upgrade, is the genius of humankind. Simply by doing what it does best, the prefrontal cortex helps create the abstracts that let us fashion any imaginable future. Over time, we became adept at generating abstract information from neither genetics nor experience but through patterns juxtaposed in the brain. As we alter the images sequentially “forward” we create an imaginary future. We can reverse direction. “If only I had painted it before I built it in.” With this we can reconsider, and in reconsideration we learn from our past. The term pagination refers to a sequential arrangement of pages. Humans reflect and plan using imagination, sequentially recalling, transforming, and inspecting images created from memory and abstract concepts. It happens both consciously and

unconsciously as thought and movement constantly sequence patterns and synthesize abstractions within the flowing dynamic of the living brain. This ability to derive conscious abstractions from unconscious activity does not diminish with age. In fact the more experiential memory we have, the clearer those universal abstracts may stand out. In a study at the University of Oregon, Cynthia Adams asked a number of women of different ages to listen to a story and then repeat it to a child. Adams and her fellow researchers expected some older seniors might do as well as younger women. They were surprised to find that the seniors did better. They not only told the

The Caravan of Dreams


tales with less repetition and verbal baggage, they expressed themselves more clearly and fluently. “When these older women retold their tales, they challenged the stereotype of age related memory decline,” she reported. “It may be that as we grow older, we improve our ability to home in on the important themes found in information.” If age-related mental deterioration has not set in, the ongoing experience of life allows us to acquire a larger and larger collection of images. Repeated scanning will highlight major generalities in ever clearer and more detailed form. It is our unique ability to derive rule systems, hold them on-line and use them later which among humans alone allows the old to become the wise. It may have evolved originally to find fruit trees or craft better tools, but our huge brains provide so much additional detail we grind out complex abstractions without thinking about it. In fact, until we accumulate a basic set of abstractions to use for our transforms, we really can’t “think” about things at all. It made communication easier when we learned to think in abstracts but it also made speech really necessary. We can’t point to places that exist only our minds. This can only happen with an organic living brain. Automatic ongoing pattern sequencing can’t occur in a computer environment. Computer memories are reactive rather than active, they have to be asked. Neurons, on the other hand, are living cells. The brain is not an immense digital computer sequencing pictures like slides. Each cell is alive and pulsing away day and night. Most of this random muttering is too quiet for us to perceive consciously but there is always a mental background hum. This continual chatter, a backdrop of constant activity, characterizes the mind at rest. It is the constant flickering of billions of energy patterns as our cellular chorus carries on an ancient tradition of mindless mental exercises, incidentally fusing our memory with the present moment to create for us the unique awareness we call reflective consciousness. Walter J. Freeman, the researcher who described brain activity as related to smell, believes human invention may be the natural result of a system characterized more by such chaotic, dynamic states than



static patterns. “Our evidence suggests the controlled chaos of the brain is more than an accidental byproduct. Indeed, it may be the chief property that makes the brain different from an artificial intelligence machine. One profound advantage that chaos may confer on the brain is that chaotic systems continually produce novel activity patterns.” The mind at rest is not resting at all. It is alive, forever mixing and matching, mindlessly weaving memories into expectations along a time horizon that never ends. The rhythm is as steady as a heartbeat. Every conscious moment is caught in our nets of memory, rolled in abstractions and cast forward again as our future. Hindus speak of the universal dance of Shiva, an endless rhythm making this world appear out of sheer energy. Shiva is timeless. He keeps the beat as the images and illusions of thought arrange themselves into the greatest imagination of all, our uniquely human perception of time and space

The Time is Now
The silkworm mechanically pulps another mulberry leaf in timeless eternity. There is no memory in the asteroid belt, no memory flung about the galaxies. It is all happening now, and only now. Everything that doesn’t remember knows this. If we really want the odds, the chances of there being a tomorrow are very good. The chance of any specific past or future existing outside our individual minds is infinitesimal. Our sense of time itself does not arrive until we are nearly three. The concept of time in man as a species arrived less than 50,000 years ago. We all just assume that the universe works along a time line. However chances are equally good we think it up ourselves. This is the most difficult concept to master, the likelihood that all past and future states exist only as personal images in human minds like our personal web pages. The present moment may be all we can ever agree about in any detail at all. Time can just as easily be a series of disconnected eternal “nows” that each of us zippers into our own time chronology carrying us from our own personal past to our own personal

The Caravan of Dreams


future. Furthermore, as only humans on earth do conscious prefrontal pattern sequencing, the rest of the known universe must have no sense of time at all. Only a brain of a certain size with certain structures evolved to a certain stage can ever hope to sequence information derived from chaotic patterns. We have no way of knowing what any other brains might do. Without our unique capabilities, this most vital aspect of human consciousness simply can’t exist. Finally, as the networks and patterns we use for memory and projection, our past and future, are individual and personal, it provides insight into some of some of those big questions. There can be no “Where did we all come from?” or “Where we all going?” We each draw from only our own past and imagine only our own future. How can we imagine where anyone else is going? The information each of us has collected is unique. The innumerable coincidences and sensations creating each waking moment before our eyes happen before our eyes only. As a result, we each have a unique and personal memory, a past nobody knows and a future that is ours alone. This leads to an unexpected conclusion basic to this perspective: There is no way we can prove that any time exists except the present moment. Real events only occur when at least two people agree about something in the same time and space. This usually happens when scientists independently observe the same phenomena or accept the validity of certain procedures and instruments and get similar results. As it happens, no two scientists, or any other human beings, have ever completely agreed about many aspects of the past or the future. Neither have these two places been located by any form of apparatus yet devised. All our instruments make observations in the present. So do we. From a strictly scientific point of view then, no time really exists except the present moment. Any other point in time would have to be a personal memory or an image we made up in our caravan of dreams. There can never be two people in complete agreement about places existing only in the mind. Scientists write their papers in the subjunctive tense for this very reason. Nothing “is” when it “might be” because nobody can really tell it as it is. We only say as we see it, each offering our part to a



network of other minds. Like our own neurons, we are all part of something beyond imagination, but we are each on our own. Naturally, we have problems with the time questions. They concern a chronological past and a chronological future. These are places peculiar to the human mind and personal to each of us. There is only our past, and only our future. We made them both up ourselves in our heads when we weren’t looking. They’re a little different for each of us and neither are real now. One might have happened before and the other hasn’t happened yet. Nobody can vouch for us in either place because the only place we can get consensus information is the present. A moment later it’s already patterns in memory, modifying past patterns, generalizing and transforming into “future” scenarios. If our memory crashed, we would lose both past and future in that instant. Time is perceived as the recollection of change. Without conscious memory time would vanish. Memory is the mother of our meaning to ourselves and to others. Our lives are made valuable to us by this measure. We can always find time in the mind, the mind that makes time for us and for the only world we will ever perceive.

The Mirror of Memory
Returning from the human species to individuals, the same reasoning applies to at least two more of the questions requiring religious interpretation. The answers to our personal “time” questions, “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?”, may be clear already. The present moment seems to be the only “real time” that exists in the synthetic sort of chronology we each create. It forms the stable fulcrum enabling us to recall backward and sequence forward. Our pre-frontal cortex never shuts off while we’re awake. It’s always weaving futures out of our past but we don’t start collecting a chronological past until we’re nearly three and we can’t go back before then. We no longer comprehend the simpler mental codes of an earlier time. They are as much a part of the structure as the scenery by now.

The Caravan of Dreams


This creates problems for personal predictions of any ultimate future. Since we use our past for our images and our earliest past is denied us by our neural development, the furthest we can get into our imaginary future will always be a version of our earliest remembered past, a version of our childhood but with ourselves in charge. This is why those who trust in God usually give God the personality of their own parents be they stern, loving or capricious. Since we can’t go back before time, we can’t predict all the way to a chronological final future. As a computer scientist might say about our inability to focus either our earliest beginnings or our final endings, “It’s not a software problem, it’s a hardware problem.” Our early existence is not available on line because we upgraded the hardware and overwrote the programs we used to read it. It’s our inability to keep the time line within our own lifetime that keeps us guessing. We keep losing our mental focus like a Ping-Pong ball that keeps dropping off the end of the table on either side. Since we can’t recall our origins, we haven’t the appropriate abstracts to imagine our endings either. Our deepest past remains in patterns we haven’t used since the age of two. It just doesn’t compute. Any attempt to imagine our final future will always be out of focus at an individual level. As nearly everything else is at least imaginable, this unimaginable beginning and destination business becomes very irritating to the mind. The timeless questions pop up nearly as soon as we can sense chronology. Still, it’s a foregone conclusion we’ll never get agreement, nor even a consensus on the final future. Our furthest future is projected from our deepest past. Both sides of time progress or regress equally towards the present moment. Tomorrow is the reflection of yesterday, and we predict our future with about the same accuracy as we remember the past. Both are as real as those images we remember, transform, and project. Both are nonexistent outside our own personal virtual reality. Time is a human mental mirror trick that leaves us, like Alice, stuck forever in the middle of the looking-glass with views in both directions. We are always in the world that is with only our mind in worlds before or beyond. We are now and were now and we always will be now. Yet we all remember another time and we all project and



hope for our eventual return to the timeless oneness, our own eternity we once knew so well. This is where it began, of course, and also where it will end for us. Our sense of time and space, our complex tapestry of experience and reality; it all comes, and it all eventually goes. It seems the problems we had with the “time” questions lie with the personal idiosyncrasy of memory and imagination. Something kept hinting that despite the individuality of our lives, we all came from some same place and will return to it again. This is why all religions provide their explanations, to comfort and to reassure us. Explanations are bound to change over time, but the questions will always confront us. We may have some new insights now, as reasonable as they are direct. So where did we come from? We come from the undefined chairos, the timeless early mind, into the specific chronology we acquire as we mature. What are we doing here? We are perceiving it all and fitting it all into the patterns we have created through our own personal activities and experiences, each differently, all our lives. Where are we going? Back to the same timeless undifferentiated mind we came from. The cycle is repeated in each of us. We appear out of our own timelessness, we put it into our personal perspective and temporary definition, and then, finally, we must blend back into timelessness again. From a chronological perspective, this takes several decades to accomplish. From a personal perspective it takes a lifetime. If there were ever a miracle to be thankful for, it might be for the way we shift into the sense of time in time to use it, then transcend out of it when it’s time to go. Time is our greatest trick. The human experience of chronological consciousness is the best example of perfect timing that we will ever experience. It gives us all the virtual time of our lives, and a future worth living for.


Strangers In Paradise
Waking Up and Taking Over

The ability to monitor patterns sequenced and stored in the prefrontal cortex gave us, as individuals and a species, our chronological past and future. If we examine where all this is happening we find it’s in the area so characteristically “human” in appearance, the high forehead of modern man. It was probably our last add-on, the final major structural adaptation boosting us into modern human consciousness. We know most higher primates share this general ability. Chimpanzees can methodically turn apartments into disaster areas just searching for a snack. Surprised by their trainer in the midst of such shenanigans, they will frantically try to point the blame elsewhere before sheepishly admitting their fault. They not only remember where to look, they can imagine punishment as well. The original “future” was entirely unconscious when it was used for tree leaping. We still see it in the athlete’s instinctive reaction that makes the goal, a basket, or a home run. Over time, this sequencing became more conscious. Adding more mass for memory allowed us to keep larger images on-line, just as we add memory to desktop computers for graphics and animation. With larger and more energetic patterns we began to monitor in greater detail. This pushed “then” further into the past and “maybe” further into the future. Finally, our cached transformss were energetic enough to remember for future guidance and densely packed enough to generate abstractions. As we acquired conscious predictive

Strangers In Paradise


imagination, we acquired “should” and “shouldn’t” at the same time. The basis of ethics and morality is expectation of reward or punishment in the future for our actions in the present. This is why family interaction during our first three years are so important. All our original lawgivers were our earliest caregivers; another reason why holy law often resembles a parent speaking to a child. When we can predict we will be spanked for deliberately misbehaving, we start behaving. Trying to instill this sort of thinking in a one year old is not going to work. They won’t know tomorrow until they get there. Chimps will never grow up, but humans base their ethics on chronology. Not until we learn right from wrong, which always has to do with future outcomes, can we intend to do right or wrong. Sin, guilt, and karma all kick in when we start being responsible for our actions. We all lose our innocence as soon as we know what to expect.

Out of Eden and Into Trouble
Before we learned to monitor our visual transforms, memory still provided emotional meaning as well as a generalized past. Still, we couldn’t think in abstracts or make long range plans. We lacked the ability to monitor “future” scenarios. The sloping foreheads of the great apes may explain why gorillas and chimps strategize only for short term goals. They clearly lack the hardware. It also helps explain the rapid disappearance of both homo erectus and Neanderthal man from Europe and Asia. The first human with an opportunity to be the Adam of our line appeared in a small group of early humans about 180,000 B.C. From this point on, more and more share a distinctive “Y” chromosome, finally becoming all modern human males. We also found Eve. She was short, African, and the mother of all the mothers of us all. She also appeared about 180,000 years ago and one of her ancestors had already met a descendant of Adam with the singular chromosome. From that point on we are the same species. It



was the beginning homo sapiens sapiens, conscious man, and the beginning of the end for any competing species. Like our own years from birth to three, the first hundred thousand years of human existence are all but forgotten. We can barely locate them. The oldest human skulls with a modern configuration, from about 150,000 years ago, were unearthed in Zambia at a site called Broken Hill. By 90,000 BC, some had moved up country and were sharing areas near modern day Israel with the Neanderthals who had migrated south. Ice age winters were brutal, even for our sturdy human cousins, and these southern Neanderthals thrived. For 50,000 years they both co-existed without showing any distinctive differences in behavior. “Both peoples were living in the same way, hunting the same prey, burying their dead in the same manner,” says Baruch Arensburg, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University. Then something happened. Suddenly, new technologies began to appear. Better blades, tools, and crafts started showing up. But only in the caves of the Cro-Magnons. Nothing new was happening at Neanderthal campsites except they start to disappear. Soon they are gone. “I think there was a mutation in the brains of a group of anatomically modern humans living either in Africa or the Middle East,” says Richard Klein, an anthropologist at Stanford University. “Somehow new neurological connections let them behave in a modern way. Maybe it permitted fully articulate speech, so they could pass on information more efficiently.” What happened was more profound than speech and just as unexpected. Some Cro-Magnons learned to consciously examine their past and imagine a future. They could make strategic plans and remember the whole in their minds while remaining attentive to the present. These imaginary scenarios were not only consciously monitored, they could be consciously remembered. Ingvar was one of the first to note how this became our basis for an internal chronology. “Evidence is that the frontal/prefrontal cortex handles the temporal organization of behavior and cognition, and that the same structures house the action programs or plans for future behavior or cognition.

Strangers In Paradise


As these programs can be retained and recalled, they might be termed ‘memories of the future.’ It is suggested they form the basis for anticipation and expectation as well as for the short term planning of a goal directed behavioral repertoire. This repertoire for future use is based on experiences of past events and the awareness of a Now situation and is constantly rehearsed and optimized.” This was much more important than better tools for hunting. We finally had the tools for imagination and abstract reasoning. As a species, we were waking up to a brave new chronological world and it was better than we ever could have expected. We could never have expected much before but once we started, we soon learned the value of strategy. After survival, procreation is the strongest drive that a species knows. Nobody made dates before we could plan. As the new hunting routines were being perfected, the smart ones discovered that better brains were great for mating games. Males can impregnate many females in a year, making females the scarcer sexual resource. For the first time males could now match wits rather than muscles. For the first time, females could select mates with the expectation of offspring and a life together. Together they would travel a new road, working towards a future they could now share in ways they never could before. As we exercised our new future-memories we became more skillful at planning and preparation. The new breed bred better, fed better, and spread steadily outward. By 25,000 years ago we made it to Australia and the Americas. Others returned to Africa. Earlier Cro-Magnons were still there but just faded away as the smart ones got the best food, the best caves, and many more offspring. As abstract concepts became available our consciousness grew rich with images, ideas and speculation. Just as a young child grows from self centered to social context, so the world around us was becoming objectified, examined, identified, and structured. Wherever we traveled, we defined our world. We named the beasts, the birds, and the fish. We named rivers, mountains, and plains. In the darkness of night, huddled with the young, we named the demons we all fear. With growing gratitude, we greeted the morning sun with our ancient “namascar surya”, our praise to Gods named and nameless, lords of the



past, present, and future. We awoke to our own humanity in that sacred spot between the rivers, in the lush climate geologists tell us characterized Mesopotamia in those distant times. It was closer to 40,000 years BC than 4,000 years BC, a date Christians once used for the creation. In comparison to the millions of years leading up to it, it’s only a decimal point error. With a past and a future we could dare to be great, intend to do good and hope for the best. We could also do wrong on purpose, plan to do evil, and try to deceive man and God. Conscious morality was also the birth of real immorality. No wonder Satan is called “Lucifer”, from lux ferens, literally “bringer of light”. Prometheus, who brought fire from the gods to the Greeks, was chained to a rock and tortured endlessly. It was the gift of light and understanding, but it also brought dashed expectations, total misunderstanding, and the weight of guilt, isolation and despair. Pandora’s box opened inward and we fell into time as all the miseries of the modern mind flooded into our future. Future doubts and apprehensions, future suspicions and fears. Were it not for our hope and trust, the bright side of imagination, our selfconscious displacement could have driven us mad. We were no longer in harmony with nature but dispersed, as a species, into individual isolated selfhood. We couldn’t be here now and be observing it at the same time. But we did, and we can’t stop even if something in us wants to return to that timeless time when we were part of it all. It’s too late. We became the only ones on the outside, separated and apart, driven out of Eden by our new understanding. The great, great grandchildren of Eve remembered their past and imagined forward, transforming their future. We now had patience to hunt for hours or even days based on future memories and planned expectations. We learned to sow the seed, follow the herds, and predict the seasons. The world was our happy hunting ground. We headed off in all directions, east and west, overtaking and overrunning

everything in our way. In only 20,000 years we populated the planet. Trekkers heading east didn’t stop when they got to China. They went all the way to Chile.

Strangers In Paradise


They came in three waves. Paleontologists think the sudden extinction of large native land mammals in the New World about 10,000 years ago was the work of the last human hunting bands crossing the land bridge from Asia. This time they had help. All dogs on earth are descended from wolves, but we know when it started. According to vertebrate paleontologist Stanley J. Olsen of the University of Arizona, after reviewing the DNA evidence, “All the materials I have seen indicate taming and domestication probably happened 10,000 to 14,000 years ago.” Like ravenous caterpillars with a plan, these groups of early hunters feasted their way from Alaska to Peru just waiting for ground sloths the size of Volkswagens to come home and ambushing them with rocks and spears. If we could have run like rabbits or flown like eagles we would have eaten them too but why rush? We had all the time in the world. It was easier to wait around and catch the big ones, the slow ones that never expected us. It was over in less than a thousand years as the local heavyweights were soon hunted into total extinction. Most ended up as memorable meals for our thoughtful, if thoughtless, ancestors. The earliest homo sapiens sapiens hunters must have had a whale of a time.

Crimes Against Humanity: The Cain and Abel Story
The Neanderthals were humans, but not like us. They had more massive bones, stronger muscles, and a brain large enough for human intelligence of a sort. They did not, however, have the rounded craniums and pronounced foreheads of Cro-Magnons. Their ability to sequence images into a conscious chronology was vestigial at best.. At one point in time we know both species lived in the same parts of Europe and Spain. In 1991, a Neanderthal skeleton only 36,000 years old was found at St. Caesir, north of Bordeaux in France. This prompted Christopher P. Stringer, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London to declare this discovery “demonstrates that modern humans and Neanderthals must have coexisted



for several thousand years.” Richard B. Klein, the Stanford anthropologist, agreed. “Even allowing for some error, humans and Neanderthals were too close together in time to allow one to evolve into the other.” In fact, it would make no difference in the end. The Neanderthals had reached the end of their evolution. It was the Cro-Magnons who mutated into homo sapiens sapiens, conscious man, and they were destined to make short work of their newly retarded neighbors. If the Neanderthals were settled in Europe first, which is likely, it might explain the rapid demise of our closest genetic cousins. Judging from the shape of their skulls and back-sloping foreheads, it seems likely the prefrontal cortex was not as fully developed. The lack of preserved brain tissue makes any suggestions about brain structure hypothetical but there is simply not as much space available. It is likely their awareness of chronological time never progressed much beyond a modern human three year old. The base of the Neanderthal cranium, moreover, is flatter than modern man’s. Jeffrey Laitman, anthropologist and anatomist at the Mt. Sinai Medical School, believes it indicates the higher larynx of a non-verbal vocal tract. Neanderthals probably could not speak excepting in a guttural grunts, chuckles, murmurs and cries. Excavated sites suggest Neanderthals, like other hominids, were communal in nature and hunted many animals. Judging from advanced arthritis found in the joints of one skeleton, they even cared for crippled or unproductive members of the group. Some suggest the discovery of bear skulls with unusual markings indicates a primitive religion while others noting flower petals and pollen in ancient burial sites speculate on the possibility of Neanderthal funeral rites. Without a conscious chronology this is unlikely. Possessing basic human intelligence, they would be the cleverest creatures in the woods. Still, their world would remain entirely present-oriented, without strategy or analysis. In a grotesque way they may have acted somewhat like prefrontal lobotomy victims, demonstrating few noticeable mental complexities or sophisticated motivations. Dim-witted and industrious, they spent their time digging roots, grabbing rabbits, or seizing a slow salmon for sloppy

Strangers In Paradise


sashimi. Excavations of Neanderthal campsites revealed other aspects of their lives suggesting a largely day-to-day response to their world. For one thing, males and females seem to have lived apart from each other and eaten different diets. No small animal bones are found near the fire sites. Hunting males only brought pieces requiring heavy hammering or heating back to the cave sites. Archeologist Lewis Binford points out these are hardly civilized table manners. “This looks like we’ve got a situation in which females are essentially taking care of themselves much of the time. Fully modern man obtains food and brings it back. Then it’s prepared and eaten by females. I don’t think Neanderthals did that.” Furthermore, they were terrible planners. Every spring, rivers in French Neanderthal-land teemed with salmon and yet there are virtually no fish bones in the Neanderthal caves. “They’re not bringing the fish home, putting it in storage, and eating it out of storage. Modern man plans months ahead of time; they move to places weeks before the salmon run. This all leaves a distinctive archeological record.” There is no indication that the Neanderthals were lazy; they just couldn’t plot anything past a couple of days. Binford believes this severely limited their range. “Neanderthals simply didn’t make it in the grasslands. To exploit the mobile herds of grass feeders, you have to know their behavior and anticipate it. Neanderthals didn’t do that. They only lived where food was continuously accessible.” In the near future and the near past, there is time to play with a bear skull or make a simple scraper but no evidence of true craftsmanship or planning. Whether a mentally childlike state is a blessing or a defect is a good question. A mind deficient in both time and abstraction will never be troubled with metaphysical questions. If the only answer to “Where did we come from?” is “From the woods, yesterday,” there is no need for a past with a purpose or a future with a plan. With memory out of sequence, abstracts could neither be conceptualized nor articulated. Wisdom would come slowly with age, and “old” was anyone over thirty. Our own personal years from birth until three included a Garden of Eden for each of us, but it seems our brother species never got out of the park. Gradual insight gained through experience would have been internal and inexpressible; wordless



inspiration unshared and soon forgotten. Abstract concepts such as good and evil were absent from those massive but unmethodical minds. The Tree of Knowledge had arborated in Africa and was bearing new fruit near the Euphrates. If any Neanderthal met a talking serpent he would have eaten it on the spot without a thought. Language recognition and a speech cortex weren’t available until the late Cro-Magnon, rendering religious speculation mentally moot in the Neanderthal nation. From this perspective the date of the creation of man becomes like everything else more a state of perception than a state of fact. We know that René Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” He should have said “I can believe only in what I can imagine.” Did God create man? Does man create gods? The question really is “When did man develop an awareness that could conceive of God and what step in brain development made it possible?” The answer is abstracting sequential consciousness and it seems appropriate that it evolved in a place we call the holy land. It was anything but a blessing for any other creature on earth. Cro-Magnon skeletons dating back 90,000 years were found at Qadzeh in Israel. However, we find no Neanderthals skeletons in that area from later than 40,000 years ago. Neural upgrades don’t leave fossil or bone remains but Cro-Magnon skeletons and artifacts continue on to the present era while the Neanderthals simply stop. Clearly we didn’t use our new mental technology just to wipe out the local game. We used it to wipe out the neighbors too, and it only took a few thousand years. Neanderthals survived in Western Europe longer than anywhere else and were probably well entrenched when the Cro-Magnons reached France and Spain. Living in the temperate forests, European Neanderthals never imagined their most dangerous adversary walked on two legs. There is no question, however, that once the newcomers appeared in Europe things were going to get ugly. “I see confrontation” says Ofer Bar-Yosef, an Israeli archeologist at Harvard University, “People who grow up in the Middle East understand that. We don’t like each other. We rarely intermarry, and we kill each other whenever we can. I don’t think you can prevent competition among societies.” The arrival of the Broken Hill Gang was

Strangers In Paradise


worse than invaders from space. The newcomers had the best tools, the deadliest weapons, and a real sense of interior decoration judging from their cave paintings. They also brought curiosity, conflict, and chaos. They came from another Eden and they took out the native Neanderthals in no time. The locals had no backup plans. In fact they had no plans at all. The young Cro-Magnon males predicted the foraging female would return to where she’d been yesterday and the day before searching for grubs, berries, or small game. It wasn’t exactly like outsmarting a squid or ambushing wild cows but it must have been easy to grab a Neanderthal. Like the children in Piaget’s study watching for the toy train to reappear, they waited quietly. She was nibbling grapes when they leapt from hiding, converging on the terrified Neanderthal with weapons they had crafted weeks before in anticipation of future events. Now, in the thrashing present tense, they quickly subdued their grunting prey. They probably raped her; later they might slash and kill. From Sichuan to Seville it was brute genetic annihilation of every other human species on earth. Still, over thousands of years enough survived to give birth to mixed breeds permanently influencing the gene pools of both hemisphere. Those strains of Eve’s family that branched East encountered evolved variants of homo erectus and overran them, becoming Asians from Dravidians to Malays to Mongols. The stone chippers of Sichuan were shipped into history along with the early Australians but not before leaving their unique genetic stamp on the face of Asia and the Pacific. Those traveling west picked up

characteristics not from an image of God, but images we recognize in trolls, gnomes, and yetis; legendary beings that resemble our extinct ancestors. When we reached the last habitats of our hairy



hunk cousins it was the end of the road for the Neanderthals. The only humans who could imagine a God had been given dominion over the earth and we seized our promised land. The primitives didn’t have a chance. They couldn’t say a prayer, and they didn’t have a hope. They were our brothers, strong and able, but unable to plant a garden or craft a killing tool. We outplanned, outsmarted, and out-bred them. Bearing in mind how we still treat our human minorities we probably mistreated them, raped them when we could, killed lots of them and maybe ate a few as well. Perhaps with wild flower garnishes. Modern consciousness may have been our birthright but it was also their death warrant. Homo sapiens sapiens became the only humans on earth: garrulous, upright, and stiff-necked; and cursed with the mark of Cain for the systematic murder of their last brothers on this planet. It is a curse we suffer to this day as we sacrifice our own in war and religious strife. Whenever we kill for the past or the future we revive and partake in that fearful ancient legacy of premeditated fratricide; the original sin that only a fully conscious human could appreciate or regret.

The Tapestry of Emotion



The Tapestry of Emotion
Feel Is How We Real

“The question of whether the world is nothing but a physical accident or whether there is a plan, this is the main question of every human being. Because the only answer to our suffering would be that there is a purpose in it, that there is a spirit behind it. If these would not exist, our life would be a hopeless business.” - Isaac Bashevis Singer

Seeing sunsets with digital pulses is consciousness at chip level, the cellular mechanics of our color vision. The development of our brain, both individually and in the evolution of mankind, brings us to adult consciousness in a dynamic illustration of systems development over which we have little control. Recent upgrades allowing us to do memory searches, abstractions, and predictions characterize our current consciousness. These all came built in. They come bundled with the brain we are born with and we can’t change it a bit. We hadn’t gotten into personal issues yet. Theologian Paul Tillich argued that after the fear of death, the fear of discovering everything was meaningless was the major mental torture of anyone who thinks a lot. It tortured Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it clearly got Isaac Bashevis Singer upset. His childhood was displaced and difficult. but the last twenty years of his life were spent in comfort and worldwide respect. So why couldn’t Singer just enjoy it? Life, it seems, is a very personal thing.



Discussing the basis of personal feelings is new territory. Now we get into personal belief systems, a form of mental applications software we can update with experience. As usual, rather than answering the question directly, we’ll investigate how we create and perceive the emotional basis for our beliefs and see if there is a little common sense lurking about in there. We may have unique brain architecture, but the rules of physics don’t change from building to building. Likewise, we may have different feelings about things but we all use the same brain. We are born into this world with minds as basic as cauliflower. Our brain still a tabula rasa, the classic blank slate. A fetus can be conditioned with music or talking, responding to them after birth, but we cannot inherit earlier memories. There’s simply no place for them to hitch a ride in the one cell DNA fusion that brought us into being. Besides, for any personal meaning a person has to do the perceiving and we have to develop that person first. A human infant, peering into a mirror, takes at least ten months to discover that it is separate from its environment. It takes two more years to get things synchronized. Still, it is during this time all the basic foundations for our sense of self and our personal feelings are created.

Neural Net Sites: Our Personal Web Page
It happens without any effort and most of the work is simply coincidental. Our very first perceptions start the ball rolling. No matter what sense is picking up the information, it travels to the brain in a series of pulses for correlation and reaction. Since neurons fire, rest, and then fire again, an infant can create and enlarge a neural network just by staring at something for a while. If she is in Thailand in a basket next to a rice paddy, she might be enlarging networks based on buffaloes. An infant in New York City could be patterning on pigeons. We all created early familiar patterns based on parents’ faces, familiar sounds, family smells, tastes, touch and everything available. Soaking up our

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surroundings like a sponge, we built the foundations of our world from whatever was there at the time. Our initial feelings about reality are based on this unconscious network, this ancient neurologically entrained part of early memory itself. It occurs well before we slip into the relative world of socialization. It happens before we know time, back in those times we’ve all forgotten. All an infant knows is what it perceives. In fact, as each child in a family will experience parents at different stages in their own lives, siblings can trace basic personality differences to family history as well as birth order. The child of happy newlyweds will develop differently from a baby born shortly before a divorce. Research shows increased brain activity, the result of a more attentive mind, stimulates early branching of the neurons. As a result, challenging or stimulating environments in infancy can play a decisive role in a child’s later mental development. “There are two main stages of brain wiring,” explains developmental neurobiologist Carla Shatz of the University of California, Berkeley, ”An early period when experience is not required, and a later one when it is.” “A lot of organization takes place using information gleaned from when the child moves about in the world, “ adds William Greenough of the University of Illinois, “If you restrict activity, you inhibit synaptic connections in the cerebellum.” Young animals raised with playmates, toys, and other stimuli reached maturity with twenty five percent more of these neural connections. “Connections are not growing willy nilly,” notes Dale Purvis of Duke University, ”But are promoted by activity.” At the University of Konstanz in Germany researchers found the amount of the brain used by young piano players was determined not by the hours they practiced but the year they started. Language is particularly sensitive. At six months we close the books on new syllables, becoming nearly deaf to sounds we haven’t heard. The speech cortex, maturing in the first year, is fixed for life. As American babies babble “ba”s and “da”s, Japanese infants bark “hi”s and twine “r”s and ”l”s until they cannot hear the difference. We can learn other languages as adults, but we use entirely different parts of the brain. Mothers talking to toddlers increase their kids’ vocabularies by an average of 300 words more at



two than children of less verbal parents. As verbal ability is basic to communication and education, this can have far reaching effects. In modern Israel, Ethiopian immigrants are reluctant to send their children to common pre-schools. Israelis tend to speak to their young children but this is uncommon among Ethiopians. Culture succeeds here only in crippling the verbal development of Ethiopian children, the very ones who need every advantage they can get. Early experiences are so powerful, says pediatric neurobiologist Harry Chugani of Wayne State University, ”they can completely change the way a person turns out.” As most of these events occur during the years before time is conscious, it provides useful insights into the widespread Asian belief in the karma of past lives. Karma, residual effects of past activities in previous lives, is a fundamental concept in both Hindu and Buddhist belief. It may not be lives actually passed that have burdened or blessed us. It could easily be deep and forgotten incidents in our earliest years helping to form the emotional terrain, rocky or smooth, we will travel during our life.

Lines of Least Resistance
After physical neural branching is complete, we continue to enlarge and deepen our neural networks. Rather than physically, now we do it biochemically. Branching patterns occur as neurons communicate with each other when the brain reacts to any perception. These patterns never totally disappear. Over time, repetition makes some of them into permanent networks. The reason is simple. When a neuron fires, it alters the synapse, the gap between the end of a dendrite and the next cell. The pulse is actually relayed by neurotransmitters, specialized molecules which travel across the gap to the cell membrane of the neighboring neuron. Nothing is perfect, so thousands of these molecules end up floating about in the gap like so much space debris. Many are pumped back to where they came from in a recycling process called “re-uptake” but there are plenty left over.

The Tapestry of Emotion


Each time a neuron fires, this routine is repeated, leaving the synapse with ever more molecular bits floating about in its communications channel. Littering synaptic gaps with leftover junk doesn’t have much effect on any one neuron. Each neuron has thousands of synapses, one at the end of each dendrite. Furthermore, specialized cells called microdendrocytes are usually patrolling around to snorkel up any garbage. Still, there’s a better chance of getting a billiard ball in the pocket if you have lots on the table and the same may hold true here. Investigating changes caused by repeated stimulation, neurologist Gary Lynch of the University of California found repetition by itself eventually creates permanent physical alteration at the synapse level. Neurons in the hippocampus and cortex remained more responsive for weeks or months. This effect, long-term potentiation (LTP), is assumed to have a part in the formation of our memory. The synaptic gap is also the secret behind Prozac®. Prozac is a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter with the formal name 5-hydroxy triptamine, is found in a structure called the Raphe Nucleus Here it affects the brains “meaningful-or-not” filter, the RAS or Reticular Activating System. The RAS is a recently evolved network (reticula in Latin) of nerves focusing on the world around us. It knows what we’re used to. It lets us sleep through sounds of traffic but waken immediately if someone opens the door. Depressed or compulsive people are caught up in repetitious thoughts and can’t get out of them. With Prozac® in the brain, reuptake of serotonin in the Raphe Nucleus is inhibited. More ends up hanging around. This lowers resistance in the gap, more signals get through, and the outside world appears more meaningful to the medicated individual. Without the repetition of depression or compulsion, they can heal. Taking it to an extreme, the molecule of LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide, is shaped very much like serotonin. Some neurons can’t tell the difference. If LSD gets into the Raphe Nucleus, the RAS can turn on and stay on for hours. To the user, everything is very important and meaningful. LSD “trips” are indeed meaningful, but it’s meaning based only on molecules. Human serotonin may be only a molecule itself, but it was designed for this brain. LSD prophet Timothy Leary himself is now becoming molecules.



A portion of his ashes were lofted into earth orbit in 1997, so he’ll be refined by the sun into simpler states for the rest of time. Discovering how repetition reinforces neural networks added a new dimension to computer research. It inspired scientists to create “neural net” programs for computers that actually “learn” in this manner. The software lets multiple connections, or nodes, interact with each other, automatically reinforcing pathways getting the heaviest traffic. By 1985, computer scientist Alan Hopfield perfected the first selfeducated neural net software program. It could imitate nearly exactly the neural world of a sea snail. The virtual snail not only reacted correctly, it “learned” patterns of attraction and avoidance as it encountered software equivalents of pleasant or unpleasant stimulation. The sea snail, Aplysia, was chosen as a model because it has very few neurons, well known to all scientists acquainted with sea snails and identical for each. Of course the real sea snails do it all

underwater and make more sea snails by the sea shore. Synthetic neural net programs, including the fanciest artificial intelligence software, can never duplicate the living networks modified and energized every moment in our brain Here, millions of lowered-resistance synapses are created in the instant perception or recollection occurs. Leftover traces, the physical by-products of these momentary networks, are likewise scattered by the billions every moment as billions of neurons send pulses down thousands of channels dozens of times each second. Every one of these energetic networks leaves a ghost in the system, reinforcing previous levels of molecular change created by previous events. Neural pulses traveling neuron to neuron prefer a lower resistance pathway. This makes it easier for any repeated information to travel further. An incoming pattern of pulses similar to an earlier will utilize some pathways created by the first perception. For example, if a small dot is flashed on a television screen followed by a bright flash, the dot is instantly forgotten. Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett marveled at how one perception seems to overtake and destroy the second. Does it defy time? Neurology

The Tapestry of Emotion


tells us that as the retinal map is reproduced nearly dot for dot in the visual cortex, the second flash barrels down many of the same pathways. It shatters the previous pattern into pieces. This can only happen under experimental conditions, however, and only with vision. If loud sounds did the same, rock stars would never remember what they’d just sung. In the words of the immortal Ray Charles, “Baby, what’d I say?” Complete sense impressions are far more complex. Even parts of them increase the size of earlier networks. Pulses can travel further, contacting and energizing a larger population of cells. This simple tendency for repetition to increase the size of a neural network is the underlying basis of our emotional spectrum as well as our personal sense of meaning. Our initial perceptions may be incidental, but our repetitions become more than coincidental. These neural networks are far more extensive in the human brain due to its greater size and complexity. As a result, they soon begin to have a noticeable effect on body hormones which respond to levels of brain activity. Brain activity is always mirroring perception and increases when we encounter anything similar to previous perceptions. Parts of our internal networks respond and reverberate, creating an internal echo in response to familiar perceptions. It adds a boost to brain activity, a nudge signifying recognition. Since many hormones react in accordance with brain activity, our growing neural nets start to have their effect on our perception itself. Many of these hormones, including adrenaline, have direct effects on our body. We feel them. As a result, the subtle echoes from large internal networks start to create a spectrum of hormonal responses. We begin to perceive “feelings” that accompany some perceptions and not others. It’s our body’s hormonal reaction to those internal echoes, physical feelings in degrees depending on the size of the network. As this size results from early familiarity or later repetition, all our emotional cues, including our subtlest sense of ourselves and our world, are ultimately based on personal familiarity with everything we know, have known, or could imagine. Our feelings are there to keep us safe and sound, but the subtlety of those cues and responses is exceedingly complex.



We now know a single neuron may release two or more different transmitters at a single synapse. Some neurons can switch molecules, like changing languages, and send different messages at different times depending on what’s happening. At this time, the number of known neurotransmitters has risen to over eighty and there is no end in sight. The innumerable networks established by these electrochemical changes are subtle patterns, but unlike other speculations on the nature of the mind we know for certain they exist and could serve this purpose. Over time we weave our personal collections of extensively interconnected memories. If there were a friendly dog in our childhood home, we made early networks having to do with dogs and early abstracts about animals. The infant becomes a child unafraid of dogs, knowing instinctively the general signals that distinguish playful from menacing. Our personal hormonal echoes gradually become our basic emotional checkpoints for the simple safety of past experience. It has happened often before. It is familiar. We feel the way we “feel” when things are all right. It’s making sense. Actually it’s making microvolts and hormones. As repetition begins to provide these clues as to what is familiar and what is not, the tendency to remain safe by repeating the familiar builds upon itself as soon as a toddler is able to express choice. Getting small children to accept variety is sometimes quite a chore once their little minds start to repeat what they like and avoid what they don’t. Our entire sense of self emerges over time from an unimaginably complex pattern of biochemical cues that had their beginnings in pure chance and parenting patterns, the earliest repetitions of our infancy and early childhood. They are is unique for each of us and they are constantly changing. As Larry Swanson, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute, describes it, “Instead of thinking of nerve circuits as fixed anatomical circuits that always do pretty much the same thing, there’s a metabolic or biochemical plasticity, a real chemical dynamic in brain circuits that is probably different to some extent in different people.” Even after the patterns of personality are established and neurologically reinforced, thresholds for triggering pain, pleasure, depression, and anger are always being set and reset by the growth or waning of

The Tapestry of Emotion


these networks. When more experience or further thought add more networking, we feel more intensely about it, whatever it is. By the time anything is deeply in our memory, we have thought about it and imagined it many times. Each time the network enlarged, and each time we do it again it will enlarge a little more. The more neural activity we generate in response to a perception, the more we will feel excited or aroused. This is why we can actually alter or update this aspect of consciousness simply by choosing areas and activities which we know are useful and repeating them until they are meaningful. In fact, if we want more meaning from anything, all we have to do is concentrate on it and to that degree it will become more interesting and mentally attractive. For example, if we were to arise each morning for a month, sing the same eight bars of a song, and go out and stare at one tree for five minutes, both the song and the tree would acquire greater meaning for no other reason than the time we spent. Repetition alone, throughout life, expands our nets ever wider, creating both new cross associations and deeper reactions to repeated patterns. Most of us can get quite excited by any of our favorite topics. Other activities can help to calm and refresh. Repeated prayers, chants, meditation or mantras are a good example. Even shooting free-throws on the basketball court. Easy repetition can in this way create both a reality and genuine feelings associated not with the interruptions of life but with quiet times of emotional and mental peace. Over time, in this manner both prayer and practice can become sources of consistent internal stability and emotional well being, as comforting as a friend. Insights which come at times like these also help explain the word “realize”. When separate patterns extend enough to cross connect, they can collapse into one inclusive pattern. It’s a paradigm shift at the micro-level, and the immediate effect is a tiny burst of energy. The sudden feeling caused by the voltage spike is “I just realized something!” New understanding can give us a real jolt when unawakened memories, gathered for some purpose, collide and fuse into new analogies and abstractions. It’s enough to pull out some body hormones, real gung-ho physical molecules,



and make us really feel. It isn’t just in the mind any more. We made it into a physical part of our body. We made it real, and we’re do it whenever we make each other feel. Happy and sad leave their marks, and they leave their molecules as well. We all leave our calling cards. When we start to realize our effects on others, we can change as well. Progressing from infancy into early childhood, each day our personal networks grow until we have enough associative cross links to maintain an ongoing sense of general familiarity with nearly everything we perceive. Our world, in fact, becomes real around us. It is a mirror of our memories and a memorial to the particular path we have followed. It would be impossible to underestimate the power of these earlier mindscapes and the sunlight or shadow they cast on our later understandings. From this perspective, we can reflect on the pain and confusion which must have affected the early life of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Why did he feel such doubt in his old age? His tales resound with humor; they are filled with compassion. But the writer himself was still unsure, imploring the assurances of an elegant plan. As the neural twig is bent, so the arborated mind will grow. Children who get assurances when they need them usually grow up to be self assured adults. If our past lives were blessed by a stable childhood and steady parenting, our future life will probably be a blessing to others.

Joy, Terror, and All the in-betweens
If early neural branching sets the scaffolding for our personal sense of reality and self, it is the development of massive neural networks which provides the shading and coloring of our full emotional spectrum. It’s initially hard to face the fact that every one of our emotions is a personal mixture of familiarity and unfamiliarity, there to trigger forms of approach or avoidance. Still, if we can manage visual magnificence with binary pulses, an entire future with prefrontal gymnastics, and meaning with

The Tapestry of Emotion


unconscious networks it shouldn’t be strange to learn our most personal feelings are created from the most common directives of all living creatures.

The basis of all simple emotional states between joy and terror is illustrated in a graph based on a parabolic curve. It charts the effects of rising hormonal release resulting from present stimulation and/or

internal echoes. The parabola forms a line dividing each level of brain activity into “reaction” and “reflection”. As the amount of information rises, unknown or familiar, hormones push consciousness further and further from the reflective state we call “thought” into the emotional states we call “feeling”. As emotional intensity pulls us further from objectivity, chronological time also distorts in a smooth progression. If we’re ecstatic or terrified, time seems slower because adrenaline always speeds up the brain. It seems clear where our personal feelings are coming from. When something feels familiar, we are experiencing a hormonal reaction to large memory patterns previously networked and sequenced. If it is unfamiliar or unexpected, anything we feel we cannot comprehend or control, our brain speeds up immediately to find analogies or escape. Whenever our feelings start to arise, we can be sure brain activity



has increased. If the source is unfamiliar we’re trying to find a fit for a growing unknown before we have to run. If the source is familiar, we trigger larger and larger hormonal echoes from networks created in our past. The bottom of the parabola represents consciousness at equilibrium. This is equanimity, where no emotional reaction is apparent at all. This is also true disinterest, the contemplative mind valued in both Eastern and Western philosophy. Neither positive nor negative feelings are present to cloud our perception. Emotional states then increase by degrees, familiar on the right and unfamiliar on the left; to pure joy on one side, to pure terror on the other. The intrusion of “feeling” into our “thought” is the area inside the parabola, an area which grows rapidly as the hormones increase. Present perception usually overrules past experience but on some occasions intense arousal is clearly an internal event. For example, seeing a picture of our mother will light up a lot of networks, hopefully positive, even if nothing else is happening. We all have immense networks associated with images dating to our earliest experiences. Likewise the swastika, the symbol of Hitler’s Nazi party, is an image with such negative emotional associations in the West it is banned in Germany. At the same time, it remains the ancient symbol of Saraswati, the goddess of learning in India. In India and Nepal schools often display a six pointed star, which has nothing to do with Israel, on one door post and Saraswati’s swastika on the other. In each case, it is only crossed lines with bent ends. Any emotions of reverence or repulsion must be coming from our internal associative networks. External stimulation is more obvious. Hearing our favorite music at a concert, attending revival services, or meeting with someone we love are good examples of high hormone states triggered by large amounts of familiar stimulation. On the other hand, being in a car careening towards a freight train is an example of sudden stimulation with no idea how to deal with it. The brain races to make transforms and predictions but it’s drawing blanks rather than reassurances. It can’t make abstracts fast enough to formulate a strategy. The frantic neural activity releases enough adrenaline to propel us into feelings of

The Tapestry of Emotion


terror. Of course if the person in the car is a stunt man who chose his career because of damage inflicted by an abusive parent, the situations could reverse. Feelings of exhilaration and panic would take each other’s places. The stunt man might have enough strategies dealing with the stunt to carry it off with cool detachment but a visit from his mother could make him break out. A camel, a welcome sight to an Arab, could be a monster to an unprepared Eskimo. Likewise, a walrus in the oasis could terrify the bravest Bedouin. Our personal emotional makeup is so very personal and so very idiosyncratic that even the ancient Romans had a saying, “De gustibus, non disputandum est!” “There’s just no accounting for taste.” The mechanics of feeling and preference are no more than a construction of familiarities. Our responses to the world we perceive are likewise entirely biased by this internal mirror of previous perceptions we construct during our life.

The Book and The Bliffer
To further illustrate how familiarity forms the basis of all emotional states there are the parallel parables of the book and the “bliffer”, an imaginary creature. In the first instance we imagine that we are walking down a sidewalk in a familiar neighborhood. We’re thinking about nothing in particular. This would correspond to the point at the base of the parabola. The mind is in a relaxed reflective state. Then we notice a book lying on the sidewalk ahead. On the graph, this raises us up a notch from equanimity to +1; interest. We’re familiar with books and here’s one lying on the sidewalk. Networks associated with books revive as we cache prefrontal patterns to approach for a better look. As we do, the image becomes clearer. It’s a spiral bound notebook with what seems to be the seal of a school we once attended. More familiarity. Networks associated with memories of school energize. Brain activity increases again, pushing hormonal response to +2 on the scale, anticipation, expectation of something we like. As long as it feels good, we will continue to approach. Bending over the notebook, we see it is indeed from our old school. A



rush of conscious and subconscious memories boosts the hormonal level again, this time to +3, and we feel attraction. We are smiling and warming internally as we reach for it. Adrenaline, released during any exciting event, relaxes our capillary walls creating a mild radiator effect while prompting the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream to improve muscle metabolism. This feels “good.” More familiarity patterns log on, increasing the emotional meaning of the situation. As we reach down to pick it up, we are astonished to realize it is one of our own notebooks. One in a box we misplaced during a move months ago. Our emotions increase to +4, or pleasure. More adrenaline, more hormones. Smooth muscle begins to tingle with a shiver of expectation. We grasp the book, bringing it even closer. Now we are getting excited because maybe it’s the long lost notebook with the address and phone number of a friend we’ve been trying to find for weeks. It is the long lost notebook! The number and the address are still there! The memories of our friend cascade into our immediate memory. We have now topped out at +5, pure joy. The entire day stops in its tracks as a rush of happy feelings floods us with delight at finding not only a familiar notebook but a chance of re-connecting with an old friend. If anyone were watching us, our rapid changes from one emotional state to another without any obvious change in the world around us would seem peculiar. In fact, there was every reason for us to get excited about anything so interconnected with so many of our internal memories. It’s the way we discern the familiar from the background, from the interesting to the delightful. It is our mechanism of meaning, the way we use our massive memory to provide a wider range of emotional clues and cues than any other creature on earth could experience. On the other hand, there is the “bliffer”. The bliffer is a quasi-android intelligent pseudo-life form from another galaxy, one going backwards in time relative to us. Bliffers are given as pets to young zurks. They absorb bad dreams. They are trained during their autogenetic cloning to seek out apprehension or fear. Like zurks, bliffers are metallic and communicate with vapor streams. In English, it’s a harmless baby

The Tapestry of Emotion


pacifier that fell out of a flying saucer passing between where we can’t see and where we can’t know. It is also unknown in this universe. There has never been a bliffer on earth before. Once again, we are walking down the same sidewalk. This time, we notice a little metallic object lying on the sidewalk ahead. It is unfamiliar but small. The increased stimulation we get from directing our attention to it is also limited. It wakens a couple of familiarity networks associated with small tape players but there’s no real match. We feel curiosity; +1 on the unfamiliarity scale. When it comes to approach/avoidance, the first stage of avoidance is usually a form of approach. Depending on the circumstances and our feeling of security we seek more information so we can fit it into some association. The bliffer is just lying there so we pick it up to examine it. It “wakes on” and starts to warm up. At this point we notch up to +2, or apprehension. We start to feel the same feelings, but this time it doesn’t feel good. Then, as bliffers will always do, it starts to hum. To us it is acting really strange as unexpected visual and tactile stimulation continue to rise without any internal match. We are beginning to get anxious due to increased hormonal release without the reassurance of familiarity. The prefrontal cortex races through all visual files on small explosive devices. Emotions signal a +3, or avoidance. We put it right back down on the sidewalk again. Now that it is warmed up, the bliffer tries to ask what is happening. As far as we know, it just started to smoke. As colored vapors begin to rise out of the device, we back off. This thing is really weird. Maybe it’s about to explode or something. Now we’re pulling up images of car bombs and airline hijackers, triggering a +4, real fear. Sensing a nearby life form is imagining a nightmare, the bliffer does what it was made to do and starts slowly sliding towards us. That’s enough to panic any fearful human. We turn and run with the poor lost bliffer, trying to calm us down, skittering along behind us. We’re scared silly, sheer terror at +5, top of the scale and only interested in getting away. We are not thinking or planning or doing anything but escaping.



In both examples nothing really happened. In the first instance, internal familiarities elevated us to a froth of happiness while in the second a sudden rise in unknowns had us running scared when no danger existed. The book itself had nothing inherently pleasurable about it and the bliffer was harmless. It all happened in our heads. If we want to be mathematical about it, joy is familiarity networks logging on faster than we can integrate them, while terror is unfamiliar information flooding in faster than we can get away from it. To us it is all kinds of real, but it’s no more than perception, patterns, and hormones. As we tune in to the way simple molecules turn on our emotional circuits, we finally drop out of the misconception that the world is to blame for it all. We did it to ourselves as usual. Would increased neural complexity have anything to do with it? The density of the connections between brain cells is as much a variable as any other aspect of our genetic makeup. A relatively overconnected brain could cache more detailed patterns. It would remember and imagine a bit better, and because of the existence of more parallel neural circuits, probably process a little faster. However, there is no reason to expect those on the high side of brain density would be blessed with sluggish reactions to compensate for their rapid minds. Like high rpm engines they always run at the higher end of the scales, living their exciting lives no matter what the weather. The denser an interconnective network is, however, the faster emotions would shoot up the curve. More pathways means more activity which means more intense reactions. The over-imaginative can fall deeply in love after one meeting, all excited with hormones and hope, just as the paranoid can sense real danger in the arrangement of towels on a towel rack. Ruth Richards, a researcher at Boston’s McLean Hospital, has suggested the emotionally vivid lives of those suffering from bipolar disorder may explain the number of writers and poets who were known manic depressives including Shelly, Byron, Hemingway and Woolf. The dull rarely get emotional about anything that isn’t obvious. They often don’t sense danger until it is nearly too late. Each of us is completely different.

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Cloaked in the Fabric of Familiarity
The way familiarity weaves meaning around us was described by psychophysiologist Jonathan B.B. Earle, who tracked the progression with subjects while monitoring their brain functions. Both drug and meditation-induced hallucinations developed in a similar sequence. The first awareness is a meaningless pattern; a visual hallucination, a mantra, a mandala, confusing images or a jumble of sounds. After a while, the patterns start to make sense and take on personal meaning. Gradually fear gives way to acceptance and understanding. Finally, the individual feels merged into the scene, a part of the practice or ceremony, going with the flow and accepting a part in a meaningful and reassuring experience. This is a rapid example of exactly what happens to each of us. Over time, memories and

familiarities urge us to repeat enough to drive their associations deeply into our brain. All during our lives this gradual progression is repeated. The graduate student during the first semester at law school is awash in terms and torts, contracts and court procedures. She’s trying to make sense of it all. By the end of three years, the theory and the systems of law have become a complex and comfortable structure with both meaning and purpose. The early confusion of law school is transformed into the logic of a legal career. After ten years of legal practice, the structures and systems of law have become an inseparable part of the lawyer’s daily life and thought, thoroughly integrated into both her self-image and life direction. Once intimidating, the practice of law is now a reassuring, meaningful part of her life. In the same manner, we are all initially confronted with life’s challenges as a confusing mass of stimulations and perceptions. Gradually, as we move into our self-repeating repertoire of likes and dislikes, we find ourselves drawn toward the patterns and images similar to those we have already made meaningful through repeated experience. Over time our lives begin to provide a more personal and profound sense of meaning. This becomes the basis of an adult sense of self and our place in the world. This self-creation of



meaning is a frustration to our many attempts at intercommunications but a necessity for any sense of personal validity. We perceive with a consciousness both unique and consistently personal as to what is real and what is not. If we did not have that unique sense, we would have no sense of ourselves either. Without a personal outlook on life, we would be reduced to herd mentality or ant-like anonymity. It has to be our way or no way, a constant majority of one. Eastern philosophies deal with this paradox somewhat better than those in the West. The Sanskrit word maya speaks directly to this situation. Maya has three translations which ordinarily seem in conflict. Maya means “beauty.” It also means “power.” But it means “illusion” as well. Maya is the power of our beautiful illusion, our personal virtual reality, to fool us into thinking that anything in the world has inherent reality or special meaning. This is the major misunderstanding of humanity, the profound

ignorance Buddhists believe is the root of all suffering. We suffer because we are emotionally attached to the things we feel are meaningful to us, never realizing that it was we ourselves that made them so. We become like Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol dragging our cash boxes behind us as we forage through life chained to our ghostly valuables, our personal feelings that mean more to us than anything. People live for their beliefs, die for their convictions, and hope the world notices their meaningful lives. The world notices nothing. It only provides us with a place to find our own checkpoints, the familiar cues that feel real to us. It is only maya which lets us imagine we will be young forever, that power is exhibited by money or intimidation, or we are here only to be gratified. Maya is always waiting to trick us into believing something in the world is awfully important when in fact everything can be reduced to personal perception biased by personal emotion. We see it, but we just don’t get it. Maya is forgetting that everything we sense is only temporarily there and subject to change at any time. Maya is thinking that we know, or can ever know, what is really going on. It’s a nice thought, but it can’t be true. We can only

The Tapestry of Emotion


know what our neural networks filter through to us, hopelessly clouded by emotional relics collected from our own wanderings on this planet. Call it karma or call it cash boxes, it’s our own sense of what’s really important that maroons us on our personal islands of meaning and purposes. Only if personal differences were eliminated could we see the world as it is. As long as we have the bias of our feelings, we can’t be objective in any way. Not with a brain that operates with neurons and synapses. If we cleaned up all the incidental branching and rewired the nets practically rather than personally we’d wreck all the patterns. We’d be back to ant-thought again. We could all agree about reality only if we could agree, even for a moment, to retrofit us all with identical brains. Then we’d see how it looked when we were all perceiving with the same mind. This is not going to happen. The closest we ever come is the very simple mind before birth and just before death. Neither one has anything to do with the world outside our heads, the place where we spend most of our lives. Perhaps the Buddha phrased it best with one of his most quoted sayings: “There is no Nirvana without Samsara, and there is no Samsara without Nirvana.” Nirvana is an ultimately “realized” state of no bias, no time, no space, and no self either. “Samsara” is a state of futile repetition like a fly caught in a vase, buzzing around and around without getting anywhere at all. Nirvana is unbiased, untimed, pure perception. The repetitive and circular nature of life for many of us, repeating again and again due to the attachment of emotional attraction and avoidance, is the groove that became a rut, the unrewarding rat race called Samsara. There is no reason to suspect that Siddhartha Gautama was familiar with neural nets or virtual realities for that matter. As an ex-prince, he was the junior executive dropout of the 5th century BC. His statement, however, speaks to the paradox that we all face. If we approach Nirvana or experienced it, we perceive reality in its purest form. To do this, we would somehow have to circumvent or eliminate every associative cross-link in our personalized neural system. This is all fine and good, but it essentially reduces our ego to the level of cauliflower again. Enlightened cauliflower perhaps, fully realized cauliflower even,



but without those personal crosslinks, incidental networks, and hormonal clues we would lose any sense of personal meaning, reality, and self at the same time. To know ultimate meaning, in other words, we can’t be we. We would have to completely lose touch with ourselves in the process. This might be fine for a last endless moment of conscious existence, but it doesn’t pay the rent. Perfect nothingness may be neat but it’s also without worldly value. It’s nice to know it’s there, but it’s no place to spend a lot of time while we’re here. Likewise, whenever we find enormous amounts of pleasure or misery in life we are just over-focusing on our own virtual versions of the bigger picture. We’re getting excess hormonal activity out of our onewitness neural netscape, quite out of touch with reality in any pure sense. We can never really know what is taking place because it’s entirely pre-selected by our personal filters of preference and familiarity from the serotonin system to memory matching. It’s a paradox, but it’s true. We can’t have one without the other. Without accepting meaninglessness as a baseline reference we can never be certain about the meaning we find or the personal fulfillment we achieve. We’ll never find our own meaning just by looking for it. We can’t. Someone we know or something we do will help us find it inside. This is another reason it’s good to have loved ones to help guide us when we get a little lost. It is not coincidental that all spiritual teachers say that we will can never really find ourselves unless we lose ourselves and rebuild ourselves again. The very patterns that bind us can then be rebuilt into the ones that support us. We just have to know the ones to repeat, and the reconstruction can be not only a delight to ourselves but a blessing to others as well. Our home-made feelings direct us, they make our lives meaningful. They are our happiness and our fulfillment. But they also bring us all the emotional pain and mental suffering we know. They are the very human side of us, the part that makes each of us different from all the others, each equally alone, equally unique, and equally precious. It is by our feelings alone we are made heavenly; by them we have known our hells. In our feelings we have all been lost and found again, and it will keep happening as long as we

The Tapestry of Emotion


believe in ourselves and the meaning we have found in our lives. It is called the human condition and we’re all part of it. No other creature on earth could know it. It may be a matter of neural nets, crossassociations, and hormonal tapestries, but it makes meaning for us every day of our lives. Painter Marc Chagall died at the age of 97. Like Isaac Bashevis Singer, he knew life’s darker sides. Born in a Russian ghetto, enduring pogroms and persecutions, he survived the revolution and two World Wars. It was Singer’s history, the very same, and yet Chagall saw an entirely different world, one filled with childlike joy and faith in the human spirit. As he once told an interviewer, “There is no secret about it. You have to be simply honest and filled with love. When you have love, all the other qualities come by themselves.” It was the only world he knew. So he repeated it, and re-created it, and celebrated it, and painted it in all the colors of the rainbow. There was no master plan needed. There was just lots of love. It was enough for him, and probably enough for any of us. “What is it all about?” The question has real answers; over six billion variations on a theme. What is the purpose of it all? It is whatever we believe it to be and for whatever reason feels the best to each of us. Why are we here? Is there a plan or a purpose? Of course there is a plan; it is whatever we love to do or be the most. This is our destiny, the only one we could imagine, the only one that feels right to us and available to each of us every day if we just let it happen. After all, what have we been doing all our life already but demonstrating this? We have made things happen. We have made others happy. We have conjured love and endured tragedy. We have been touched by joy and we have been gripped by terror. We all have. Every moment of every day, in this world we perceive and believe in, we are the ones who make it conscious. We are the ones to give it meaning. For better or for worse, ‘til death do us part, we make it real.


The Biology of Wisdom
Brains on the Bell Curve

“Once the validity of this mode of thought has been recognized, the final results appear almost simple; any
intelligent undergraduate can understand them without much trouble. But the years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels and cannot express, and the alternations of confidence and misgivings until one breaks through to clarity and understanding, are only known to him who has himself experienced them”

- Albert Einstein

Einstein’s greatest challenge was finding a way to communicate an entirely new way of understanding physics. His problems lay not in his intuitive perceptions but in how he was going to explain it to anyone else. It wasn’t easy. By the time he worked out the explanations and analogies required he was starting to sound like Sir Edmund Hillary returning from Mount Everest. According to Newton, genius is based on analogy, the ability to see the connections between things. So why are there so few geniuses? Why, indeed, are some people more mentally able than others? It doesn’t seem to inherit very well. There are gifted families, but only one Rembrandt, one Margaret Mead, one Jimi Hendrix. This in turn suggests some part of the system, some natural capacity of the brain is more developed or better focused in some than others. According to our current paradigm, the entire experience of life is a vast virtual reality limited only by the system doing the perceiving. From this

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perspective we are equally bright within the context of our own minds.

Still, when judging human

accomplishment across the board there are those able to surpass normal limits, standing out as great scientists, artists, philosophers, saints, and statesmen of their times. Why do some people seem eager and able to grasp subtle concepts and not others? For that matter, why do a lot of people act so dumb a lot of the time? Politically correct thinking insists everyone, if properly educated, can be equally smart. We know that just isn’t so. Nature versus nurture arguments aside, there’s simply no question about it. Some people are born brighter and grow wise with age. Others mature from barely trainable to barely sustainable. Investigations into genetic or neurological explanations usually buckle under accusations of cultural bias, but this begs the question. There are smart Asians and dull Asians, brilliant Blacks and not so brilliant Blacks; there is no master mind race. All of us agree there are plenty of idiots in our own societies, wherever we live, too many crazies and never enough wisdom to go around. Regaining the philosophical high ground, it appears we may have another species-wide aspect of consciousness here, something that is characteristic of all human societies. This usually means that there is something causing it either in the brain itself, or in the manner the brain juggles perception and recall into the virtual reality we deal with on a daily basis.

Ruling Out the Obvious
Brain activity is electrochemical in nature. Previous chapters described how biochemical changes are responsible for everything from brain speed to neural nets. However, brain chemistry itself isn’t a useful line to follow this time. Great minds have been sober and drunk, passionate and reflective. There



are plenty of histories of artists, philosophers, musicians and others with unusual abilities who indulged in alcohol or drugs but nothing to suggest adding spices to the mental soup was ever able to sustain improvement or output. occasional breakthrough. There are also plenty of stories of temporary intemperance leading to the Even John Vincent Atanasoff, the gentle scholar who invented the digital

computer, cheerfully admitted he was driving around the back roads of Amass, Iowa after a few beers in a bar. Relaxed and free-associating, he came upon the solution to a major problem and launched the computer age. William Taylor Coleridge drew some images from opium dreams and Bob Dylan’s Tambourine Man is one long pot rap inspired by a New Orleans Mardi Gras. Still, prolonged tampering with the brain chemistry set leads invariably to lessened and inferior work. There are no molecular mind stimulants that work across the board in any regular or dependable manner. If the answer isn’t found in brain chemistry, we shift to brain structure. Here the prospects are more promising. Could any aspect of brain structure, in its final form, be the basis of the basic mental differences between dull, normal, and brilliant? Brain size by itself, we already know, has less to do with consciousness than brain structure. It’s not the number of neurons, that’s for certain. Janis Joplin’s brain weighed more than Howard Hughes’ and the largest brain on record was from an executed murderer. The next suspect would be the density of the neural wiring itself, a variable based on the amount of neural branching.

Using Our Connections
We know that early stimulation leaves permanent effects on the brain’s later capabilities. In one dramatic study, scientists blindfolded one eye of a newborn kitten for three months. This so retarded the normal growth of neurons in the kitten’s visual cortex that visual pathways were never created and the cat, although otherwise normal, remained blind in that eye for the rest of its life. Later studies by William

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Greenough and others were so convincing the US Government inaugurated the Head Start program. The long term results of this and other early childhood enrichment programs have proven beyond any doubt that stimulating environments can create dramatic improvement in a child’s learning ability and later social performance. If increased neural branching is a basic variable associated with a more aggressive intellect, it suggests an insight into why some people are more intellectually acute than others. Is this the simple variable in basic brain wiring that makes the difference between a Newton and a noodnick? Animal studies and newer non-invasive procedures are beginning to provide the necessary details to support this line of thought. Human arborative density, the tangle of neural branching in the brain, has rarely been studied. As a genetic variable it must have an upper and a lower limit with a “normal” range between the two. Still, we don’t have a lot of numbers. The reason is simple. We don’t have brain samples taken unless something is wrong enough to require one to identify a tumor or inspect brain damage. As a result, samples with enough brain mass to study come only from dead people, many of whom died from diseases or conditions affecting the brain. Still, though we lack samples for a true normal baseline, when it comes to the upper and lower limits evidence may be available. Twenty years ago, a series of post-mortem examinations were done on infants who died shortly after birth from gross mental retardation. The purpose of the study was to learn how maternal health affected fetal development. In the case of extreme malnourishment, the effects were fatal. Initial inspection of the infants’ brains revealed surprisingly low levels of the basic neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Was there something terribly wrong with their brain chemistry? Careful microscopic examination solved the mystery. The neural synapses using acetylcholine were normal. There just weren’t enough of them. Denied proper nutrition during a crucial period of brain building the neurons simply hadn’t arborated enough. Like starved trees with too few branches, there weren’t enough leaves for the breezes of perception to make more than a flutter. In this instance, the stunted arboration led to such a low



interconnective density the neural system wasn’t able to support conscious perception at all and failed completely. When it comes to the high end of the scale the evidence is more ambiguous. Still, it supports the general concept that there are limits at both ends. One source that can be studied are the brains of those who died as wards of the state in large mental institutions. One study concentrated on the corpus callosum, a thick band of neural tissue connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain. In this instance, only the brains of schizophrenics were examined. There are two basic forms of schizophrenia. Early onset appears during childhood, while late onset usually strikes during the early or mid twenties. In the brains of early onset victims there was an abnormally high density of neural connections in the corpus callosum. This condition was rare among those suffering from the late onset variety. Abnormal connections, this time too many, between the brain hemispheres is apparently typical in at least one form of genetically inherited madness. It would be convenient if we could associate branching density with all levels of perception and capacity. Unfortunately nobody is going to take brain core samples from the living and we haven’t a lot of reliable information from the dead. Still, we have one sample which might represent the upper limit of conceptual intelligence, one able to manipulate very complex internal images and associations without tipping over into very complex fantasies. After his death, Albert Einstein’s family was concerned he not be autopsied or sensationalized. No studies were done on his brain, nor examination permitted of his body. In fact, numerous brain tissue samples were secretly removed by one of the attending pathologists. Encased in small blocks of gel, they were preserved in formalin. In 1985, a number of these samples were examined with the hope of discovering any aspect which might have a bearing on his extraordinary intellect. Einstein had a slightly larger than normal brain, but this has already been ruled out as a variable. His neural interconnective density was, however, was nearly

The Biology of Wisdom


twenty percent higher than average. In 1991, further studies were done on the sugar-cube sized samples by Arnold B. Scheibel, Director of the Brain Research Institute at UCLA. Together with his wife,

neuroanatomist Marion Diamond, he found that compared with eleven normal brains Einstein had an excess of glial cells. These cells provide the insulation and packing for the branching dendrites. It appears again that Einstein didn’t have any special structures or even special neurons. He just had more

connections between them. His brains arborative density was much higher than the average. It seems the subtlety of normal human consciousness thrives in a narrow band extending about twenty percent on each side of the average, or the norm. Two few connections and we cannot deal with the outer world at all. Slightly beyond genius is where true madness lies where the inner virtual world simply takes over. From underconnected to overconnected it could account for everyone from the hard to train to the hard to restrain, from retardation to full blown psychosis. The way this one structural difference could have such far reaching effects hinges on the way normal human consciousness operates. If the arborative

network were less dense, it would at all times be adding less detail to memory. The brain would therefore need more of these less detailed patterns before generalities and analogies could emerge as abstracts and ideas. Predictions, made with less information, would be less accurate and learning would take more repetition before it became automatic. As the brain’s arborative density increases, memory and prediction improve. This allows some to feel quite certain about a likely future without an obvious reason; the basis of many so-called intuitive abilities. Some really do have the knack because they pick up a little more and predict a little better. With greater detail available, recall would be better than average and they would remember more complex details. There would always be a few more associations and analogies. The world would be seen as having more subtleties and complexities, more challenges, more opportunities, and more dangers as well.



Aside from better prediction, recall and analogy, anyone with increased neural density would also think a little faster. This is for two reasons. First, the greater number of connections would result in a greater number of incidental short cuts, allowing a network to grow faster. Second, with more neurons attached to more neurons, the speed of the parallel processing performed by the brain would increase slightly. This results in some people literally thinking faster, if not better, than others. It is no illusion and it helps explain why to others they often seem speeded up, curious and intense about life. Bertrand Russell said that the only truly brilliant man he knew was his friend and colleague, philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead’s daughter Jessie, still alive in the 1980’s, was fond of her dad. “Father never knew what it was to be “grown up,” she would say. “He was always asking questions, right up to the end. I guess you’d say he died a rather wise child.” This line of thought is remarkably close to Einstein’s own assessment of his mind “Most adults don’t spend their time thinking about questions of time and space. That is what children do. My problem is that I have never grown up, so I asked those questions and looked for simple answers. I still do.” Albert Einstein was notorious for his habit of treating everyone from As one biographer wrote “His

professors to cleaning women with the same off-handed familiarity.

absentmindedness, his playful wit, his willingness to expound upon politics, religion, and philosophy in addition to science, his violin playing - all sparked an intense curiosity on the part of the public.” Another consistency found among many with extraordinary minds is an ability to combine mental images with scientific thought so thoroughly they actually experience their ideas like vivid virtual scenarios. Neurologist Charles Scott Sherrington was fascinated by how Nobel laureate Ramon y Cajal personalized his work. “He treated the microscopic scene as if it were alive, and were inhabited by beings which felt, and did, and hoped and tried, even as we do. He saw sperm cells as activated by a sort of passionate urge in their rivalry for penetration into the ovum.” Cyril Stanley Smith, director of the metallalurgical aspects of the atomic bomb project, described in a letter “a feeling of how I would behave if I were a certain alloy,

The Biology of Wisdom


a sense of hardness, and softness, and deformability, and brittleness - all in a curiously internal and quite literally physical way.” Swedish physicist and Nobel laureate Hannes Alven said that rather than running equations back and forth in his mind he preferred “to sit and ride on each electron and ion and try to imagine what the world is like from its point of view and what forces push to the left, or to the right.” The late geneticist Barbara McClintock won her Nobel for discovering high protein corn hybrids for a hungry world. For her, daily work with chromosomes was a social experience. “When I was really working with them, I wasn’t outside, I was down there, I was part of the system...these were my friends...they become part of you. And you forget yourself. The main thing about it is you forget yourself.” The ability to lose the sense of self during intense focus on inner images is also the basis of some powerful Buddhist meditation techniques. Students choose an image, memorize it, and sit motionless with their eyes half open examining their memorized image in their “minds eye”. Not only does the self-generated image gain a dimension of emotional meaning as described in the previous chapter, if the meditator is naturally sensitive the image can eventually acquire a reality equal to the “outside” world. Explorer and author Alexandra David-Neel, traveling through Tibet disguised as a Tibetan pilgrim at the turn of the century, wanted to try the technique. She shut herself off in a cell to meditate alone for several months, using an image of a Capuchin monk. She was delighted with the peace of mind the experience provided. She was also amused and surprised when, resuming her travels, she would occasionally see the monk here and there like a real person. Eventually, without the steady concentration, the image faded and the monk no longer appeared. Exercises like these demonstrate that mental images can become as real as physical ones. All we have to do is concentrate on them. This ability to focus on vivid mental images and ideas allows some of these people to endure privations and isolation which would be difficult for others. Charles Darwin spent years on a sea voyage and Newton compiled his Principia while waiting out the London plague alone at his parent’s country



home. Thoreau’s solitary cabin at Walden Pond is well known to the world. If they are not isolated, they can do well at jobs so boring they do them without thinking. Einstein was a patent clerk as he worked out the special theory of relativity in his spare time. Franz Kafka was a minor civil servant. Spinoza didn’t run a coffee house for renaissance minds, he ground optical lenses. Some use cards or crystal balls, others become gifted teachers, scientists, or stockbrokers. Some are beloved healers, others become national leaders. These are the individuals who stand out in the ways we call perceptive, sensitive, learned, and wise. However, there are plenty of drawbacks as well. The over-arborated consciousness, burdened with intense memories and vivid predictions, can become over emotional, oversensitive, and childish. Since these people perceive more complexities in life, reacting to valid perceptions they cannot share, it’s often hard for them to make sense to people around them. This acute frustration can ultimately lead to the extraordinary efforts at communication we call the arts, all created by individuals so moved at what they experienced they felt compelled to share it. It requires maturity and patience to gain the complex skills required for mastery in any medium. Without this sort of self discipline, the overly complex mind can easily disable itself in exciting internal dramas that serve little purpose. Those unable to adapt to the “normal” values and realities of their cultures can easily become trapped in isolating personal scenarios. Easy distraction, hyperactivity when young, and indecisiveness can result. For the unfocussed mind, the wide variety of opportunities available can prove distracting to the concentration which allows talent to develop into accomplishment. As Leonardo DaVinci once complained, “Like a kingdom divided, which rushes to its doom, the mind that engages in subjects of too great variety becomes confused and weakened.” The greatest mind of the Italian renaissance died with his frescos deteriorating, his great bronze horse uncast, and his elegant machinery unbuilt. Galileo stuck to astronomy and Einstein left no symphonettes for violin and string quartet. They stuck to their skills and let their mental art change the world.

The Biology of Wisdom


Our limits are reached, it seems, when the combination of neurotic repetition and interconnective density give the inner virtual world the ability to overpower the world that exists around us. If this tendency can be controlled and directed, it leads to disciplined minds able to follow inner images and visions to discovery, wisdom, and art in any area they choose to follow. Impressionist Claude Monet knew very well that a haystack is made of brown and yellow hay. To catch the subtle and momentary blue and pink hues of a French sunrise he relied on a visual memory as color-fast as a printed picture, painting from his inner eye as all great painters eventually do. But he knew the difference, which is the most important difference. Art is talent manipulated by skill, but the general audience must be the final arbiter. This is why artists need audiences, to keep their visions grounded in the general reality of their own cultures. Without this constant reality check, reality can eventually check right out. Some turn inward. Creative minds can become withdrawn, paranoid, and obsessive, gradually losing contact with the world in isolation as real as the brain damaged or retarded. In the emotionally damaged it can lead to neurotic fantasy, avoidance, escapism, and even psychosis. The electrical genius Nikola Tesla was able to design and even test complex circuits in his head. In Tesla’s case it eventually got completely out of hand. He died penniless after a sad decline into obsessive neurosis, requiring his table settings to be each wrapped in exactly six layers of paper napkins. Howard Hughes, also, was a crack inventor. He personally designed many aspects of his own planes from racers to the first TWA Constellation. Neither man was able to halt the inevitable buildup of compulsive repetitive thought patterns, eventually causing them both to live in worlds full of complexities and strange rules that nobody else could fathom. As their lives became habit ridden, their minds became so self-involved and self-limited that the outer world was no more than a vestigial aspect of life, a life which had already become a never-ending feedback loop. Hughes died a billionaire, Tesla a pauper, both utterly miserable victims of their own hag-ridden minds. If either



had available to them the tools of modern psychiatric medicine, who knows how fulfilling their lives might have been. Balanced brilliance, on the other hand, always knows when to take a break and let it slide. Norbert Wiener and Albert Einstein met only once, by complete chance, as passengers on a train in Switzerland. In a poignant letter reproduced in a hallway at MIT, Wiener describes the delightful time they had chatting about the beauties of lake Geneva and colored patterns in the clouds. Neither mathematics nor physics, the skills they had so brilliantly mastered, interrupted a mutual understanding that they were having a wonderful time. As long as the complex individual maintains a balance between perception and personal interpretation, life can be improved by a more rapid perception of underlying rule structures and their practical applications. While less complex minds often find their reassurance in steady careers or social structures, the complex individual can find comfort in tight philosophical schemes and elegant strategies. They succeed or fail completely between their own ears, and most of us never hear about it. The medieval scholar Erasmus wrote in the fifteenth century that if pure learning weren’t a pleasure, he would not have spent a life at it. Referring to his beloved books as his “friends” he celebrated his quiet and solitary existence. “What could be more agreeable!”

Adventures in the Tall Graphs
An easy way to visualize the progression from one end of the mental spectrum to the other is to use the familiar bell curve, the standard representation of a random distribution. With neural branching density increasing from left to right, the left side of the diagram indicates too little neural branching to survive, while the right would represent too much density to stay in touch with the world. The vertical dimension represents the population of the earth in billions.

The Biology of Wisdom


In this representation, the “normal” majority is assumed to exist mainly between the dull and the clever. There are not that many very stupid or retarded humans. Likewise, world populations of real lunatics are thankfully relatively low. Since the same mental strata yields genius, art, and neurosis, the problems our society suffers from the disturbed are usually being made up for by breakthroughs in medicine and science by the well directed over-connected who better tolerate the imbalances and alienations which drive others to such extremes. One thing seems certain. There is no better or worse, no right or wrong. Most of us think and act as if there were a “consensus consciousness”. There isn’t and there can’t be. We are each unique and dealing with our own special variety of life challenges. The clever blunder into clever problems and the dull get as depressed as any existentialist in weltangst. It’s the way we deal with our own world that counts. A desire to use our brains to our very best, at whatever level, seems to be the motivational basis of a fine mind at every level of neurological complexity.



Getting back to the graph, a natural problems we face when classifying our neighbors as smart or dull is the unavoidable bias of the classifier. Most people see themselves as internally consistent and to that degree as normal as anyone else. How can any of us know if we are unusually dull or specially clever excepting that others tell us so? This understandable tendency to ground in our own personalities leads to an interesting illusion when we size up the people around us. Since most of us assume we are normal, we place ourselves at the top of the curve. The person two to the right is imaginative and two to the left is dull. However, so-called “normal” people rarely read books about consciousness at all, so nearly all of you are probably at least at “clever” level. This means that those who appears artistically gifted to this audience, already smart-shifted one level to the right, could be far enough into subtlety to be regarded as “delusional” to the “normal” mind. In a like manner, an imaginative person will regard a normal person, two to the left, as slow. This is not entirely an illusion, since greater density seems to increase mental speed. However, if the inner imagination gets out of control, one eventually becomes unreachable and once again we’ve lost our reading audience. True neurotics have no time for theories such as these. They have plenty enough of their own. It is easy to see, using the graph, why many dull people call nearly any imaginative ideas crazy, and why the delusional rant about the stupidity of nearly everyone around them. Once again the physical limitations of the brain itself imprint themselves on our very personal experience of life. The slow or retarded have to work harder to retain knowledge, determine causalities, and make future plans for action. The artistic or imaginative must gear down to deal with what seem to be the mundanities of life. They have to be especially observant of prevailing social norms, no matter how limiting, so as not to seem either eccentric or unpleasant. Should either mental deficiency or mental complexity pull us too far from average thought and behavior, we become mentally alienated until we are so out of touch we must be institutionalized and cared for by a world we can no longer adequately comprehend. In terms of social

The Biology of Wisdom


isolation, the brilliant individual is just as left out as the slow thinker.

The genius can be just as

incomprehensible as the retarded. Based on this interpretation, the children of those with great minds are just as likely to be cursed as blessed. There is clearly no advantage to freezing the seed of those with a genetic tendency toward higher neural density. Any offspring could blossom into a full blown set of neurotic behaviors as easily as winning a science prize. She would certainly know more than her share of the anguish of the overly intelligent who must live, after all, in a vivid virtual reality often at odds with

what the consensus selects for its art, its media, and its social mores. Another use of the bell curve is the following illustration. The only difference is the groups on the right are now separated so that the line on the graph cuts across long rectangles at various heights. If we call these rectangles “reality”, the portion below the line is the portion of reality taken from direct perception, while the proportion above the line is the part taken from our internal interpretations. Once



again the diagram seems to match what we see around us when we think about how these people seem to behave. The normal person deals more directly with the daily challenges and responsibilities of day to day life. The clever person might have a greater emotional investment in life plans based on long term strategies with deferred rewards based on more elaborate plans for a future. By the time we reach the level of “artistic” temperament, the very personal way in which an artist interprets perception can mean more, at least to the artist, than the event itself. The delusional live in complex personal worlds that often seem to have little, if anything, to do with the world we see around them. Clearly there needs to be a balance between our perception and our imaginative use of that information. Those deficient in making associations will seem inappropriately slow. They have to make mental connections with a little less recall, prediction, and speed. The over connected brain often misfires, reacting to simple problems with inappropriately complex responses and strategies. If the rectangles that make up the middle of the bell curve are the norm, for most people perception holds more promise than imagination. What we see is, in fact, usually what we get. Still, for the artist and the philosopher, interpretation will always outweigh information or they would have nothing to get so excited about. To each his own, within the limits of a fulfilling and comfortable life.

A Desk for All Seasons
As an illustration of the nature of life as seen from differing levels of complexity, we will set up an imaginary situation to demonstrate how complexity begets complexity. In this instance we have placed a large wooden desk in the center of an otherwise featureless room. Into this room, we will take one individual from each category, normal to delusional, and ask the question “What is it?” Normal: ”It’s a desk.” Opens drawers. “An old wooden office desk.”

The Biology of Wisdom



“Looks like a desk.” Checks drawers. “It’s big enough for a lot of things. I could use it as a table, I suppose, or maybe some storage.”


“Offhand, I’d say it was an old wooden office desk, but there’s no telling what you might ask me to do with it, so let’s see. It’s a desk, a work table, a support, and a platform. I could even use it for a dresser. It’s a lot of wood bolted and glued together so it could weigh something down, or I could take it apart and build something different from the pieces. Do I get tools? In an emergency it could be burnt for heat, or as a signal beacon. Did I miss anything?”


“That thing? That thing? You know what that is? It’s the mighty altarpiece of the twentieth century incarnate. It’s the age of the office, the age of the cubicle and half the minds of the world are shackled to those things, like cubist balls and chains, and then they put the chains on the rest of us. Look at it. Still in wood. Y’know most of them are metal now. That’s it. This is a nostalgia piece, right? You know, it’s sort of memorial in a way. See how the light hits it? Polish it up a little, maybe add a little neon. Everybody ought have one of these. How about I make a bunch of little reproductions, wood on a little black marble slab. Sell‘em to retired executives. I’ll call it the “Altarpiece Series”or something. I’ll sign ‘em. You can sell ‘em. Whaddaya think?”


“Just what do you mean, ‘What is it?” You already know what it is, so what do you want me to say? You could ask me anything. But what



would it mean anyway, ”What is it, where is it, who is it?” I don’t know who it us or why it is but I know what you’re up to, Doc. You’re hoping to confuse me so I give the wrong answer and then you can tell them I’m neurotic, or stupid, or crazy. But this time you went too far with your little hidden agendas because I’m on to your little schemes and plots with my entire family to keep me here. I know it all by heart. They probably taught you how to do it. Ask the crazy questions until you drive them crazy, that’s it, right? Right? You may be a psychiatrist but you’re dumber than I thought to try that one on me. I’ve figured out your little game and you’re not going to get a word out of me. Not one single word!”

We can’t suggest that any of the individuals portrayed in this gallery of words is being untrue to him or herself. Each answered in a way consistent with a world view which by degrees became more intricate, personal, and intense. It is reassuring to know that reality is usually closer to what it appears to be than what we might imagine. It was a desk, of course, an old wooden office desk. “Why are some people smarter than others?” was not one of those questions posed by Bertrand Russell. He was probably too polite to ask and he was smarter than most. It is comforting again to reflect on the openness and good humor found so often among those whose intelligence, if misdirected, could have such terrible consequences. They are not shut off in their own little worlds and so they share, influence and improve our worlds with their discoveries, their wisdom, their music and their art. They usually speak gratefully of their own inspiration and support from others. “If I see farther than others, “ Newton once remarked, ”It is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” The very intelligent are smart enough to know better than

The Biology of Wisdom


the rest of us that we rarely do it alone. They may well bootstrap the human race, but they are also the ones who thoroughly understand this aspect of the human condition. We do it together. The concept of interconnective density as the dominant factor with regard to basic mental capabilities is a good start in the right direction and a good enough excuse for anyone. It’s not anyone’s fault that we’re not enlightened yet. Blame it on the DNA. Still, even as insights gained from understanding a little more about how the brain is built help provide some new explanations, we are still faced with the same old facts. If the world we know is complex to the degree that we ourselves are complex, it reminds us that we bear the greatest responsibility ourselves to make that world as pleasant as possible for ourselves and others. It also underscores the extraordinary variety of human experience, each as real as it can be. We are not of one consciousness but a jumble of unique minds, each a bit different. To that extent, an emerging world consciousness is closer to possibility now than at any time in the past. As each of us is a separate entity, like a neuron, the number of possible interconnections has suddenly shot up. The increase in world population, in terms of the future of the human race, may not be as important or as dramatic as this rapidly growing interconnective density. In a century we have gone from Morse code to color fax and the Internet now beckons us to a shared existence we would never have imagined even twenty five years ago. Who can say when the density of communications between us will increase to the point that we realize that all cultures and societies embody certain basic rules for life and how to live? That’s universal wisdom, a generality that emerges as we compare our own life visions with people all over the world. Soon, we may finally waken to the truth that we are all the same, sharing the same world and wake up to a shared future. A consciousness like that could save our very planet. Still, we each must live within that very personal world we perceive and believe in. Here we all know the truth. It does not make a bit of difference to us how bright or slow we are, so much as finding our place and our acceptance among those we respect and love. The complexity of it all is secondary, in all



of us, to the fundamental simple search for fulfillment and belonging. It may well be happenstance and genetic coding that make our worlds simple or make them complex. Considering the complexity of our mental biomechanics, it’s a miracle that most of us fall within the normal range. That’s the luck of a resilient and forgiving system. If we can accept the fact there’s bound to be a lot of variation around the norm, it can help us accept both the dull and the creative, the plodding and the poetic. Most of all we can take heart in our own unique mental personality and better accept ourselves.

9 _____________________ Priests and Prophets
Rapture, Repetition, and the Ratings

“A little too abstract, a little too wise, It is time for us to kiss the earth again, It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies, Let the rich life run to the roots again”. - Robinson Jeffers

Carved in marble over the entrance of the Temple in ancient Delphi were two massive commandments “Know Thyself” and “Nothing In Excess”. These ancient axioms have proven themselves over and over again in the face of challenge from both self-indulgent hedonists and self-denying ascetics. If we get to know our limits and don’t overdo them, our mental system will not fault out. Consciousness will not crash as long as we stay in the middle of its natural path. Once we get those two basic rules up and running, everything else is applications software. The only glitch in the program is it neglects to mention how we are supposed to find those boundaries. Until we reach our limits, we can’t really know if we’ve exceeded them. And who is going to tell us who we are? Self-definition seems filled with personal bias, so whom do we choose to name us?



Only someone or something outside our own limits would be objective enough to rule on our validity, some entity beyond those very boundaries we’re supposed to keep within. Coming up with answers to questions like these kept the Oracle of Delphi in business. A large portion of her working hours, it seems, were spent over a natural gas vent babbling in brain-addled intoxication. It was a giddy glossolalia, tongues unknown to everyone but the local priests of course, who translated her gibberish into something sounding like advice and charged a fortune for the interfacing services. This sort of scam, in our times, would be considered very in excess of “Nothing in Excess.” The Oracle would probably be busted for drugs and her staff put away for a variety of morals charges and gaming violations. There are limits in every culture, and we all know them. Still, devotional practices of the major world religions make daily use of powerful practices which seem to alter consciousness just as much. Swaying Evangelicals, swirling Sufis and bowing Buddhists all share the same beat and the same blessings. The heartfelt “Hallelujah” or “Thank You Jesus” brings the same peace to some as “Hare Krishna”, “I’nshallah” or “Amida Butsu” bring to others. African shamans and Mongolian monks speak in ecstatic tongues just like Christian Pentecostals. Throughout the world the spirit of the Oracle is reborn daily as millions go to other worlds for spiritual guidance. From Toronto to Tunis they dance, pray, shout, sing, faint, and swoon in new religious fervor. Fundamentalist Christians, Hassidic Jews, Modern Muslims, and Brazilian born-again are all excited about it. No matter what our culture the themes keep reappearing. “Born Again,” “Enlightenment”, “Awaiting the Rapture,” “Embraced by the Light”, “Bliss Consciousness,” “Satori” “Cosmic Consciousness,” “Samadhi” along with everything from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to the uncoiling of the Kundalini. Harvard theologian Harvey Cox described the largest Christian congregation in the world in 1996, an Evangelical church in Seoul with over 600,000 members. Korean Zen wasn’t much fun and a deeply ingrained Korean shamanistic tradition has found ecstatic rebirth among the Christian reborn. But what does this

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worldwide swing to the spiritual bring? Why is it sought after by so many? Have we transcended the limits and liberations of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll to a genuine search for the ultimate connection or is this trend towards commitment and communion simply a new form of selfishness for a generation oversatiated on worldly thrills and self indulgence? Is it evidence of evolving human consciousness, or just multiple varieties of escapist or avoidance behavior. It’s much easier to become self-satisfied believers and let God or guru take care of the paradoxes and problems of a rapidly changing world. Are we progressing, or just searching blindly for the simplicity of lost innocence in chaotic and stressful times? Transcendental bliss, by itself, is easy enough. Many of us have heard of the unspeakable tortures suffered by lab rats. A few have probably also heard about the unspeakable joys of some other lab rats a few years ago. These wired rodents had electrodes implanted in the lateral hypothalamus, a critical part of the brain’s “pleasure circuit.” It was a pure connection to joy and each had a button to get as many peak experiences as desired. Oh rapture! The rats would sit on their buttons until they dropped from

exhaustion. It was better than sex; it was better than drugs; they even liked it better than eating. Normal animals haven’t the first hint of organized religion but this was the cult of the button for sure. They were converted on the spot. Blitz consciousness! Slain in the circuit and fulfilled with all the ratty forms of joy. It was rat heaven but the gods of their current redemption were more interested in their hormones than a rodent hallelu-jolt chorus. Joy at such a basic level was like any other chemical high. Predictable and reproducible. After a time, however, most of the reborn rats found their boundaries and learned to limit their bliss, leaving only a few devoted rodents still pushing for their singular paradise. Brightening our own brain centers with that sort of impulsive ecstasy wouldn’t be difficult. Human reaction is more variable, but with enough work who knows what refinement could bring? It’s just hard luck for the priests of the button that normal humans have never elected for this sort of brain surgery. Less invasive procedures, such as electroshock therapy, do little more than scramble the system temporarily.



This will often derail a serious depression but even its strongest proponents would never suggest it was pleasurable. This being the case, at least in our personal lives, when we want to have fun we head for chemo rather than electro. It can do the same thing and it’s much more subtle. It’s a second glass of wine to put a glow on the evening, the touch of a special fingertip, the stirring chords of J. S. Bach, or the power chords of Chuck Berry. We have many ways to travel. By adulthood most of us have learned a variety of culturally acceptable ways to alter our brain chemistry and our state of mind at the same time. What we seem to be looking for, or at least what we seem to be getting out of this, are various levels of mental generalization, creating momentarily a deeper communion with the other. This feeling of merging with the feeling, the action, the music, or the person serves as a touchstone to our deepest emotions. There is a basic area in the mammal brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, which activates after birth to trigger a sense of loss if the mother is absent. It is sensitive to isolation and disconnectedness. It makes rat pups search for a missing mother, and it is just as active in humans. It tries to re-unite us with our mother in that total one-ness that was the only world we knew before birth, when everything was taken care of. If that structure is damaged, an abandoned pup experiences no stress when its mother is absent. Because of this basic effect on behavior, the anterior cingulate cortex is referred to as the “Great Mother” by neurologists. It is always there to suggest we’re missing some ultimate union to make our aloneness disappear. We all find our ways to the Great Mother. It can be the glad harmonies of music and prayer, the blurring effects of social drugs, or the personal and persuasive rhythms of erotic sensuality. In each case we are taken somewhat beyond our disconnected selves, momentarily becoming a part of something greater rather than the solitary soul we know so well. Outside our own self-definition, with momentary out-of-our-mind perspective, we can the gain essential insights required to judge our limits and help find ourselves in our personal space and time.

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In the 1970s, research psychologists Elmer and Alyce Green of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, visited India. There they observed and recorded the unusual physical and mental powers of trained yogis. One adept, Swami Rama, was invited to the Greens’ laboratory in Topeka. Under strict laboratory controls, he demonstrated extraordinary abilities to influence and regulate both his body and his brain activity. There could be no doubt that the mind could be both unleashed and controlled. It was capable of extraordinary powers which the West was just beginning to understand. In the early 1990’s, the Dalai Lama invited researchers to India to examine Tibetan Buddhist monks. Observing brain and body states during meditation, they were again able to verify that some could voluntarily control basic aspects of brain and body metabolism through purely mental practices. Within a short time, versions of the techniques were being made available as part of a stress management program associated with Harvard Medical School. If meditators could literally alter their biochemistry with thought exercises, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to wonder if most states of mental happiness right up to pure bliss are variations on the same theme. If rats can do rapture with amps and Tibetans do it with chants, it probably isn’t that complex.

Chemicals for Courage: The Rapid Response System
From a molecular viewpoint, we do joy with adrenaline, ACTH, serotonin, dopamine, and a few other brain chemicals. The recipe differs from location to location. Still, nearly all the physical and perceptual aspects of a state of bliss can be directly or indirectly associated with the effects of these hormones and neurotransmitters on some major organ system or brain structure itself. Adrenaline is a master hormone, a powerful natural metabolic catalyst that causes the release of numerous other compounds with dramatic effects. It is synthesized in the adrenal cortex, a clump of cells located at the top of the kidney. Since “kidney” in Latin is rena, “ad renal-ine” simply describes where it’s made, “from over the kidneys,” a handy place to get it into the bloodstream. Like a hormonal turbocharger, occasional adrenaline release is normal but too much can exhaust or impair. Too much adrenaline is associated with



anxiety, asthma, panic attacks, high blood pressure, drug and alcohol abuse, and impairment of the immune system. One way to fire off the adrenal cortex is to create a sudden increase in brain activity. The biochemical trip signal is a rapid rise in the amount of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Epinephrine is medical Greek for adrenaline. Greek epi means “over” and nephron means “kidney”. Greek sounds more scientific than Latin, so noradrenaline became norepinephrine; the “substance preceding adrenaline.” If norepinephrine suddenly rises it’s like yelling “fire!” down the wires. The adrenal cortex immediately injects adrenaline in the bloodstream without asking what’s happening. Usually there isn’t time to ask, which is why it all happens so fast. It’s an emergency system designed for instant deployment in lifethreatening situations. For example, suppose we are walking down the street. Our body is operating well within its limit. Our senses are picking up the scene and processing it at normal speed. Then, suddenly, it happens. It doesn’t matter what happens. It just has to be jarring enough to create a sudden surge of norepinephrine. In this instance our pleasant stroll is shattered by the squeal of brakes shrieking into our auditory cortex together with an exploding image on our retinas of an out-of-control car skidding into the intersection just ahead of us. As information from the eyes and ears hits the top level of the brain, neurons race to compute escape trajectories, creating a surge of energy as cells careen into overload for a moment. The sudden flood of norepinephrine into synapses halts the lazy spontaneous firing of resting neurons, opening the gates for sensory information pouring in from outside. Neural circuits energize like neon signs flashing on in a crackling frenzies faster than thought. Patterns and networks interconnect all over, shifting the entire brain into electrochemical excess. We are not thinking yet because the first surge hits the adrenal cortex as fast as an airbag, completely bypassing the brain’s interpretive centers. Adrenaline shoots directly into the bloodstream, rocketing up the arteries to a brain only a heartbeat away. Like gasoline sprayed on a blaze it

Priests and Prophets


hits the frantically firing neurons, supercharging both neural hemispheres for a massive reaction. The visual cortex shifts into overdrive, neurons pulsing away at triple speed like a whirring movie camera suddenly speeded up to the max. This is how both film makers and brains create slow motion visuals, that unworldly sense of “time standing still” when we really need a miracle to get us out of harm’s way. The car is slowly skidding towards us and we’re already in motion. With our brain on fast and the whole world in slow, all the smooth muscle in our body contracts. Hairs snap straight up in their follicles. The diaphragm contracts in a gasp, and all the blood vessels give a squeeze, forcing a wave of blood toward the liver and a shiver through our body. Mentally we are immobilized in a state as close to the Sanskrit samadhi, total immersion in present reality, as we will ever know but there’s no time to reflect on it now. We’re totally in the Tao, but who’s got time to appreciate it ? Time and self-consciousness are jettisoned as we swing to our single purpose. We’re moving before we realize it. Less than a half second has passed. The liver pours its rich supply of glucose into the bloodstream, charging it and fueling the muscles for immediate action as the body sweeps through biochemical transformations faster than the mind can think, slamming muscle molecules into position, wrenching the spine straight. Time itself stops as life and death hold fast for a moment while we yank ourselves out of harm’s way. In adrenaline shock from trauma or terror mothers have lifted cars off children, hunters leapt to impossibly high branches, and accident victims walked with broken legs. If it kept on coming we’d drop from burnout and exhaustion. Under circumstances like this it’s hard to recognize the basis of a pleasure circuit. Terror is nobody’s idea of ecstasy. Excitement, perhaps, but hardly holy rapture in recognizable form. As the car skids out of the intersection the hormones taper off just as quickly. The smooth muscle in the body relaxes with predictable results. The cold shiver is replaced with a warm rush as the blood returns to the extremities. Bladder or bowel may fail if their sphincters relax too much, not uncommon during a terrifying experience. There is a warm hormonal tingle throughout the body and the mind remains in a



fuzz. The brain slowly recovers in a foggy biochemical afterglow. It will take some moments to cool down, synchronize the parts, and reset the prefrontal time sequencer to normal thought again. And there are always artifacts. Brilliantly remembered moments when we were so much a part of the world around us we were nearly out of our minds and we lived to talk about it. We were pulled beyond our limits and returned to this life alive. If we had been lost in our personal virtual chronology up to that moment it was a sudden drop-kick into present tense perception with the volume up to twelve. A full-strength adrenaline rush always puts a new card in our files, a paragraph break with our past and something to seek or avoid in the future. We never expect the big ones but they make all the difference in the world. They give us our limits as well as the moments when we really know who we are.

Practice Makes Perfect
As our early ancestors developed abstracts and imagination they were also perfecting the details of recall and prediction. Soon, recollection of the seasons woke us to the cyclical nature of the world around us. We began to predict, prepare, and do the one thing that nature never does and never can do. We learned to repeat on purpose. It was the beginning of our control over our environment, our control over our destiny, and our evolution as a species. We learned when to sow the fields, to predict the return of the herds. We remembered how glazes melted on a pot and learned to make it happen again. The world never does it twice the same way but we learned to repeat things at first for mastery and later just for fun. Practice makes more than perfect, it seems. It also serves as the basis for makes an entire range of predictable pleasant experiences. This is possible because repetitious mental activity enlarges neural networks. Each time any thought or a muscular activity is repeated, patterns will extend. Specific networks will grow each time we repeat, making us more sensitive to the expected while paying less attention to the formless or the incidental. We

Priests and Prophets


become oriented towards further repetition as we remember pleasurable feelings created this way and seek to repeat them. As we start to prefer some aspects of our world to others, it allows us to invest personal meaning into whatever we know the best. To the extent that we can, from this point on we begin to reshape the world into a mirror of our likes and dislikes. It is the beginning of both personality and force of habit, the unconscious repetition the East calls samsara and the West calls ego. Over time, in each of us, repetition of familiar activities and thought patterns eventually so extend and interconnect that any familiar stimulation can awaken very large associative networks. Many neurons are often on the edge of firing simply from the activity of internal chatter and are easily sparked into heightened response by small doses of stimulation. Consequentially, in humans, synergy between a large and energetic associative neural network and any additional stimulation can create enough brain activity to fire off the adrenal cortex when very little may be happening in the “real” world. An example of this effect, as mentioned in Chapter Five, would be the sudden and unexpected face of a long-lost loved one in a crowd. Facial recognition is quicker in women than in men, but either way visual data takes a shortcut directly to the limbic system, a basic brain area that links memories and emotions. It defines our reality by denying emotional existence to all but parts of moment-to-moment perception. As we all judge reality by emotional cues, the limbic system is our constant personal virtual reality-check. In the case of the face, with many memories available, familiar patterns in the hippocampus respond in immediate recognition. The hippocampus is an ancient part of the brain, evolved directly from the olfactory bulb. In fact, the “smell brain” circumvents the reticular activating system, letting scent-related memories roll into consciousness without any brakes. Familiar smells can push old buttons so hard it surprises us when a perfume or a place revive vivid feelings from the past. Returning to the face in the crowd, even though the speed of human consciousness, dependent on both sequential and parallel events, is rather slow, the “shock of recognition” appears instantaneous to us.



Having so many large associated networks linked to old memories can trigger a small avalanche of sudden brain activity. The face in the crowd can, in this manner, have the same impact as the car skidding into the intersection. It creates a rise in brain activity very suddenly, only this time there’s no danger. This much is obvious to our senses, which are about to be overruled by the powerful effects of an internal patternrecognition cascade. With so many associative networks responding, the giveaway norepinephrine surge initiates the fight or flight sequence. Out rushes the adrenaline, all excited and nowhere to go. When we experience mild adrenaline shock from familiarity rather than danger, we call the hormonal jolt “delight.” Now the gasp, the shiver, and the warm rush are magical. The sense of time slowed down is dreamlike, not nightmarish. It’s exactly the same molecules, but this time we did it to ourselves by energizing networks all over the brain. It adds dramatic impact to our time and space, pulling us out of our reflection and involving us directly in the world around us. We call these home-made hormonal surges everything from sudden insight to joyful recognition, from a burning inner certainty to a happy thought. Rock stars and religious leaders have all been in the media so often fans and followers are mentally saturated with their images. When the actual person appears, suddenly uniting all the parts, both devotees go a little adrenaline wild. Heavy metal fans have religious experiences while the seriously faithful rock, sway, and see stars. Excitement has its limits, however. Even basic brain structures can be exhausted. If the hippocampus is overstimulated too long, its cellular mechanisms will fail. If things get too excessive, in other words, it can lose control and the limbic system will fault out, or “disinhibit”. This effectively blows the fuses on any boundaries we may have separating fantasy from fact. If it happens, our entire virtual reality, our sense of the world and its meaning, could destabilize. It is limbic system distortions, along with suspension of chronological time, which create the altered perceptions of dreams, delusions, and death. Our place in space may be based in a part of the brain as old as the hills but it’s not hard to overload the system with all this evolved brain mass to work with.

Priests and Prophets


As the great majority of our memories are in an unconscious state most of the time, we are subject to specific and personal responses to old and forgotten patterns all the time. If they are memories we treasure, recollection and thought can intensify and further personalize our response. The natural extension of this ability to amplify experience with memory, creating pleasurable hormonal rewards, is how we each inadvertently and unconsciously overdrive the hormonal system to get our bearings in life. The consciousness we depend on for everything must operate within a personal virtual reality and if we don’t test the limits of our own egos occasionally we can start to believe that our world is the only one there is. This is because we don’t re-boot our consciousness every morning when we wake up. There’s no reset button, so experiences simply accumulate into a massive memory bank. Inevitably, the continual buildup of preference and avoidance make us repetitious and insensitive to the changing world around us. How, then, can we re-focus the present moment to see it as it really is rather than distorted with outdated recollections and expectations? How to get a really fresh look at it all? Why, simply trigger those networks for an adrenaline blast and drop into psychosensual overdrive for a moment. If we energize enough internal associative memories we can make any experience more intense and involving. Then, with only limited amounts of external involvement, we can experience all manner of meaningful excitement right between our ears. It’s a synthetic dose of the same wake-up shock normally occurring when something extreme happens but if enough internal networks light up at once we can trigger a storm of brain activity that will feed on itself like a brush fire. As a result, minor events can be amplified in the brain enough to arouse hormonal highs in people for reasons ranging from romance to scholarship, from a celebrity on the stage to a cockroach in the kitchen. The human mind has harnessed the world to our whims but individually it can lead us into some of the most inane sorts of behaviors. With age, we only become more specific. Teenagers excite en masse at current pop stars while adults, having grown more personal, have more specific heroes in their own larger but



specialized fields of association. In fact we seek the excitement we’re helping to create just as we seek salt for our diet. It is the necessary and repeated meeting with our hormonal cues, forcing our feelings to their natural limits, that alone can keep us defined and alert in a world we have made much too safe for such a curious little ape. Sometimes the trip circuit is unconsciously planned into our professional work routines, such as never allowing enough time and getting caught in panic deadlines much too often. Some hobbies, sports, and occupations are clearly going to include more thrills than others. Police officers, drug dealers, and rock stars wouldn’t do it if it didn’t excite them. The official company slogan of rock-climbing outfitter Yvon Chouinard is simply “Let’s Go Get Scared.” Nobody ever lost money with a good rollercoaster. Still, most of our personal routines and repetitions are not unpleasant, and provide us our hormonal highs less dramatically through varying forms of exercise, entertainment, intimacy, and ritual; domestic, cultural, or religious. There is a dark side to this, however. The more we repeat anything at all, the more familiarity it will have and the more we will tend to further repetition. Survival is the only thing the brain was evolved for so anything we survived is better than the unknown. This means anything from daily habits to self-destructive relationships can and will, through repetition, create self-regenerating habits. Over time the cumulative effects of these patterns can alter our course through life like the invisible attractions of large planets, massive with our past, able to pull us again and again into old familiar orbits without our conscious will or even realization. By the time we’ve lived a number of years we are already repeating by unconscious habit many activities which were once quite coincidental simply because they make us comfortable. Our walls are being erected without a lot of noise. We are left with limited space to exercise the full spectrum of our powerful systems of perception, thought, and action. Rarely if ever facing real life-threatening or lifeenhancing situations, we become dependent instead on dependable emotional triggers like a rat in a cage

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twiddling the button for safe little jolts. Buddhists believe past lives generate karma that affects our present dispositions, but it doesn’t take more than the timelessness of infancy and a few more years to start getting into the invisible rhythms of repetition. Unless we can find ways to engage ourselves in realistic exercise of our human consciousness in a world both impersonal and unpredictable, we head into the safer world of synthetic challenges, wins, and losses. Soon, our existence is characterized mainly by repetition, a self-centered life enriched almost entirely by predictable and usually paid-for pleasures. At the same time even the most painfully unpleasant real life events are avoided or woven in as part of a repeating and self-fulfilling scenario. “Honest” expressions of anger can become repetitious ritual conflicts against the same old adversaries. Genuine concern can be blurred by compulsive focusing on any person or activity, forcing them to fit into our powerful expectations of what happened before. When human inventiveness in prediction and planning begins to be used mainly to arrange personal repertories of the same loves, the same hates, the same fights, and the same triumphs, it’s hard to explain it. As a result, we go to great lengths to create and articulate personal, cultural, and even national myths to justify repeating the same old patterns of expectation, pleasure, disappointment, and rage; the human hormonal four-step that we so often mistake for the harmony of life.

Media Technology and the Rise of Virtual Violence
Helping us along in this universal trend to replace pure perception with predictable thrills is the enormous amount of sophisticated technology currently employed to create and promote events that are clearly going to arouse us. At this time, the manufacture of vicarious excitement, professional sports, movie stars, star wars, drug wars, news bites, superheroes, and sitcoms is a multi-billion dollar industry. As soon as our modern civilization saved us from being faced with real danger it seems we started spicing our lives with ritual romance, drama, and mock involvements to save us from terminal boredom. Julius Caesar, one of the first to hit on this sure-fire formula, was asked how he kept Romans from rioting. “Bread and



circuses;” he replied: processed foods and cheap thrills. There is nothing new two millenia later. We’ve simply brought the Coliseum into our living rooms so that mayhem for the masses is more profitable for the media caesars of our own time. Dealing with everyday life challenges doesn’t seem exciting or meaningful enough in a world filled with individuals who don’t know why they’re so anxious and don’t know whom to blame. Since few of us feel we have any control over, or even meaningful input into, our technical twentieth century world we’ve developed an unconscious itch to find some deeper meaning. To many, this simply translates to anything that gets them excited and the overwhelming majority of them got that excitement mainly from popular media and entertainment. Our seeming inability to be satisfied without constant arousal, the ability to enjoy the simple congeniality of a so-called normal existence, pure paradise for any lower creature, can be blamed almost entirely on the private media. They reap fortunes while force-feeding our senses a

deadening and degrading diet of danger and drama. As a result, the real world dulls. We begin to use it mainly as a staging ground for dreams and fantasies constructed from synthetic hopes and popular fears, and erected like scenery in our mind, creating a world view as colorful and two-dimensional as any soap opera, docudrama, or MTV video. Eventually, these self-generated cycles of internal fun and games can build such barriers that instances of real human drama, tragedy, or joy lose their power to teach or guide. Most of us fall back into the comfortable and familiar patterns of our virtual pleasures and synthetic fears, punctuating and perpetuating our life of oscillations in a world of echoes and dreams. We learn to avoid activities with disturbing implications; people or experiences we cannot fit into a predictable, defined, world. Our neural nets, there to save us from need, spread untended like kudzu across our internal landscapes until we are strangled in our tangles of illusionary triumph and imaginary fears, cultivated now more for self stimulation than safe passage through a life now stuck in a parking orbit around some dark star. These days we have

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developed ever more novel ways to shield our senses from the present moment and be further led by our own noses, never having to react to reality. We have everything from Walkmans to talk shows to hide us and guide us and give us familiar mental cud to chew until we wish for no more. Many become completely satisfied with a nearly total avoidance of the uneven experience of real life, replacing it with routines as easy to maintain as the rat’s pleasure button. Subtly at first, and with greater regularity as we become habit-ridden, our emotions can become stunted and ritualized. We become as engrossed in our self-created virtual sideshows as any video game or Internet addict hunched over a keyboard world, flashing and beeping in a dark arcade. Like rapturous rodents with a wire up the thalamus, we avoid the real world while turning increasingly to well-rehearsed, reliable forms of self-stimulation, getting our buttons punched again and again, waiting for the jackpot. It is no wonder we seek ways to escape those boundaries. Our temporary solutions are to shock the mind into a state of thoughtlessness with the help of various social substances, excessive sensuality, and thrilling ritual. These will always be available. If there were any permanent solutions however, or at least some practical methods for an exciting dip into the present moment without self-denying or self-destructive behavior, it would seem whoever has them should step up and tell us about it. Can we cleanse our mind of its accumulation of outdated pasts and impossible futures without getting brainwashed in the process? Can we straighten out the self-indulgent tangles in our neural nets, the cycles that keep sending us in circles, without losing our bearings or our brains? In fact, it is not only possible, but a variety of ways to achieve mindful reconstruction have been taught and perfected throughout history as spiritual instruction, physical training, social skills, and even more powerfully embodied within some of the fundamental rituals of traditional religious practice wherever they are found. The methods we use to find both our freedom and our fulfillment are clever in theory, often elegant in execution, and available to us any time we choose.



Holy Hormones, Batman!
One easy solution is to ground personality temporarily, neutralize the virtual ego and consciously experience perception from that perspective without our filters of repetition. Fortunately, we don’t have to do anything violent. All we have to do is overdrive our prefrontal cortex and we’ll start blurring self consciousness just like that. If we can’t focus time or search memory we can’t do future transforms or abstracts or anything. At any moment our ego is anchored in our patterns of memory and expectation. Cognitive thought works only in chronological time because we think comparatively. With cognitive controls off-line we would be “thinking” with our limbic system; pure emotive perception with no spacetime limitations at all. This certainly comes close to Godhead or the Great Mother, but it is also perilously close to nowhere. Whatever it is, it is way beyond “Know Thyself” and “Nothing in Excess.” In our daily virtual world of time and space we need one to perceive the other. When time checks out, the self goes with it and we get a chance to experience life from a more universal, unlimited perspective. If we could keep our mind in that place for a moment we would actually return to mental synchrony with the rest of the world without the shadings and burdens of hopes or fears. This is no state of mind for doing the taxes or even crossing the street, but it is superlative for experiencing the immediate moment, an refreshingly direct interface with the world. It is considered a form of higher consciousness in the East, where getting beyond personal context is the goal of human spiritual endeavor. So how do we do this? Fortunately we don’t have to open up the brain and pull out memory chips. Chaotic quantum-pattern memories aren’t built like that. The easiest thing to do is to create “I-O” or “Input-Output” faults. In computers, this means that data input speed and output speed are out of synchrony. If we can manipulate our brain into overdrive there are ways to create even more profound experiences by forcing consciousness into extremes through biochemical gymnastics. Eventually, these planned electro-chemical stretching

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exercises can lead to states of consciousness ranging from mild hormonal highs to complete adrenaline shock; from delight, to amazement, to ecstasy.

Planned Satisfaction: Stretching the Nets
Of course, if we continue to overstimulate our higher brain areas with enough repetition we will eventually force perception to default down to lower-definition consciousness. This would drop us back into something closer to instinctual sensibility for a short time, leaving us unthinking and yet quite aware. This highly charged form of selfless perception is usually described as a state of grace to a religious Westerner, samadhi to a Hindu, satori to a Zen Buddhist. It’s the same mind, a self-realized state described as higher consciousness. It’s a lower consciousness in fact, and we all have the ability to experience it. In fact, we’ve all approached it many times without realizing it, and some of us have already taken it one or two steps further. The way we do this is to create huge synthetic interlocked patterns in the brain through directed concentration on planned activities which are largely repetitious. We need to create enough associative neural networking to eventually trigger a mild hormonal avalanche. Over time, repetition of any complex activity can trigger enough associative response for mild hormonal body highs, providing us with pleasant mental and emotional stimulation without either fantasy or frustration. It’s not a virtual event; it’s a real world experience and our intensified feelings add to our experiential perception. Creating such large networks takes time, however. Unless we are into Eastern meditative practices or artistic obsession, most of us are not by nature very good at nearly perfect repetition. In fact, the way most of us achieve this state of grace has the advantage of ganging different brain areas together for an overkill. We can its with any mind/body activity which requires thoughtful practice, from music, to jogging, to drama, to dance. We will cross-associate all sorts of networks if we repeat any complex activity over and over. The constant



repetition involved in mastering any skill takes place as we challenge ourselves again and again until we gain a desired level of competence, matching those imaginary images we project in our own mind. Tibetan lamas refer to this concept when explaining the purpose of their complex ritual dances. “If the mind is focused on directing the body to act smoothly, then the mind must eventually become smooth itself.” Any guitarist discovers that as soon as the fingers learn to form chords, the mind fills with melodies. As mastery requires practice, constant repetition, it leads inevitably to emotionally charged experiences. Soon, we learn to enjoy the “feeling” of our ability, our craft, or our art. The constant repetition of the same mental challenge also allows for the generation of plentiful new abstracts, giving birth to a range of philosophical musings that always arise during favorite activities. Eventually, this creates immense extended patterns linked throughout higher brain centers routinely handling perception and thought. Incidental resonance between these internal mega-nets and external conditions could easily trigger a powerful hormonal response. Unlike our unconscious repetitions, the mental habits we repeat and try to justify, these are events we made happen with conscious attention and full knowledge of what we were doing. The anterior cingulate area, our Great Mother, is also involved with how we focus our attention. Over time our areas of greatest interest and familiarity begin to resemble the Great Mother as the way adult humans learns to banish isolation or loneliness. In meditation, in competition, in music or mortgage banking, we locate and understand our place in the world when, like Barbara McClintock with her friendly corn chromosomes, we are so involved with what we are doing that we are not aware of ourselves at all. If we just stop worrying about how we’re appearing and devote ourselves to whatever it is we’re doing , the next time we hear from our crowd of critics they’re clapping. Rock stars aren’t kidding when they blow kisses to the crowd and hug each other on-stage. It really was fun. They really are grateful. It’s a gift both ways.

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This is how artists and athletes, machinists and musicians, and anyone else who has experienced the personal glow of a job well done gets those thrills. When skill and circumstance combine just right we will lose ourselves in the moment. These moments are instructive, not destructive, because they were done purposefully. What makes the experience so nice is that it often happens when we are doing our best and often in the presence of friends or even admirers. There are hours of dues to pay, of course as we set up those deep patterns during days of mindful repetition. The long hours practicing scales, the steps of dance, slap-shots that slip and dunks that don’t; all are part of a patient assembly of those mental patterns that will let us lose our fears without losing ourselves. Over time, amateurism becomes expertise. The body begins to move in smooth curves of carefully controlled energy; the fingers find the frets without a doubt; the colors hold; the dancer’s body awakes; and the energy begins to flow from within. Sooner or later, the experience must happen. Practice and action are finally in tune, and it’s puck into the net, ball over the goal posts, and moments all musicians experience sooner or later. So much is happening we end up blowing a few fuses. Out comes the adrenaline and the moment takes over, sweeping us into universal reveries as mind and body forsake time and space in a glow we know so well. This is the feeling of being totally in the flow of life, the Tao, the Dharma, the Kingdom of God at Hand, in the groove, swinging along blessed and grateful simply to be, the childlike wonder before self-consciousness. Every time that we repeat thoughtfully something that we love to do, we knit another set of neurons to our growing networks. Then, as outside events energize them within the right setting, we can find ourselves experiencing pleasant hormonal happies in supportive and protective surroundings. The more brain area called into resonance, the stronger the feelings. It takes a lot longer if we just watch. An active involvement in our life and the things we love to do makes it much easier. In fact, whenever we immerse ourselves in our music, art, hobbies, studies, athletic contests, professions, personal fitness, volunteer activities; even cooking, working, and parenting it always pulls us out of our virtual reality and makes us a



part of a bigger picture. As the joys of personal fulfillment always require practice, it’s important to find a practice that we can enjoy. If paying the dues is a pleasure in and of itself, the payoff will come sooner and be even more pleasurable.

Faith and Familiarity: Awaiting The Rapture
There are, moreover, even more powerful versions of these methods of finding the eternal moment. The basics are the same, but with added effects which tend to act as catalytic boosters. Like the sequenced finale of a fireworks display, they provide special emphasis at the right time, adding direction and depth that can last for days, months, or even longer. To Christians, Muslims and Jews such experiences are considered religious rapture. Hindus call it shaktipat or samadhi and African shamans would recognize possession by a great spirit. Jonathan Earle, whose work in altered states was mentioned previously, believes that with continued overstimulation the entire pre-frontal cortex may default and relinquish its ability to provide any abstract sense of self. This would leave us in the passive limbic consciousness of an infant, a world experienced without observational reflection or mental distance. This is the world we knew before we became chronological creatures, before we left our personal Eden. In these rapturous states, as in highly charged meditative states, the experience is one of intense, and yet passive, immersion in the moment. They are states of being, of nearly selfless awareness and clarity. When these experiences occur within the focus of a regular religious symbolic or physical practice, they can induce deep emotional responses, pure personal fulfillment, powerful and indescribable. In fact, the only time that we can be so completely fulfilled is when we are much less complex ourselves. There will never again be a time of such sure and undifferentiated self as the one we knew as young children. Without the accumulation of memory to crowd our sureness with caution or regret, time was always now. This universal time of early innocence is, in that sense, also a time of incomparable self-knowledge. It is our

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human condition that this form of perception is nearly impossible to recapture or reproduce in the mature consciousness of the human brain. Even if we were to recapture it, we could only use it for the experience itself. Our early non-comparative, timeless consciousness may be the experience we have sought ever since, but it is what it is: an immature and generalized version of our precise and measured adult consciousness, a infant’s view from an infant’s brain. Still, it was the last time our mind was at actually one with our world and it seems we need the reminders. If we want to find ourselves this is the way to go, but it is not a transcendent move upward. It is a return to another reality, the one that we knew before we knew anything else. “Let the little children come unto me,” said Jesus, “hinder them not, for unto such belong the kingdom of heaven.” To experience that kingdom we have to relinquish our own virtual world, the entangling neural website we spent so long constructing. In fact, we nearly have to crash the entire system. Only through widespread disruption of the circuitry of the brain will multiple parts of reflective consciousness flicker out at the same time, creating for a moment a cohesive but much more basic universe, a place beyond understanding. If we can experience for a moment our reunion with chairos, pure timelessness, we will know oneness again. This is to experience the Holy Spirit, to know Enlightenment, to be Brahman. It is so far beyond cognitive perception that our earliest and simplest worlds, long lost and longer forgotten, become momentarily sensible again. The mind settles to the bottom as it simplifies to a nearly primeval state and we are reacquainted with the simple consciousness of infancy. We were all gods then; and as all the great teachers have said, we can be just as holy now. We simply have to regain that fearless, innocent perspective and we can find ourselves again at any age. To accomplish this we must involve even more brain mass, but the new activities need not be personally meaningful. In fact, it is better if they originally seem meaningless. This way they become meaningful through repetition alone, creating large networks connecting rarely with earlier associations.



These enlarged synthetic networks are are easily re-stimulated by ritual repetition and pumped to higher energy levels without affecting conscious thought at all. If enough of the brain’s patterns are routed through these networks, if an adrenaline surge hit, they can blow out like overdriven amplifiers. Parts of consciousness would blank right out, dropping us immediately to limbic system limbo again, an infantile consciousness accompanied by everything from out-of-body perceptions to rapturous experiences, from dream scenarios to superhuman exertions. We can weaken entire levels of consciousness by repeating stimulation just as visual focus will blur if we stare at an object for too long. If any part of the brain is engaged too long in stimulating or stressful activity, neurons will stop firing momentarily to rest. The resulting traffic jam disrupts normal consciousness and the backed up signals default downward to more basic brain structures. If these lower structures are already at the edge of exhaustion themselves, a cascade hits the adrenal cortex and the released hormones hit a hair-trigger brain. If the resulting double overstimulation disinhibits the limbic system, our entire sense of self can melt momentarily into a powerful experience of being dissolved into timelessness as our entire cognitive system goes momentarily off line. Nobody who has been there ever forgets it and preparing for the journey has never been easy. Getting there usually requires precise mental and physical practices repeated over and over. This time it is not in furtherance of personal goals. It is ritualistic and recognized as such. The fingers move over prayer beads for the devotees of the Virgin Mary, Lord Krishna, and the Buddha. The mind directs faithful hands to fold, or move, or hold. The Muslim bows to Mecca in a precise formula, hands out, hands down. There may be familiar music. Familiar scents, such as incense, will excite the olfactory cortex and prime the limbic system. There may be ceremonial swaying, walking, kneeling, ritual hand movements, ritual dance, or prostrations. Shakers danced in circles, Southern Baptists clap, Buddhist lamas move their hands

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through ritual gestures, Hassidim daven, rocking back and forth, Sufis spin in white gowns, Chinese walk T’ai Chi, Catholic priests raise the Host. We can add other subroutines as well. To automate the auditory cortex we repeat a familiar line of syllables in our mind over and over. It can be a prayer, it can be a mantra; it can be a name or a title. “Hare Ram”, “Hail Mary”, “Kyrie Eleison”, “Our Father”, “Nam Yoho Renge Kyo”, “Om Mani Padme Hum”. We repeat it until it comes without thought. We fix our eyes on the altar, the icon, the cross, the candle, or the image we memorize, keeping our visual cortex in a state of repetitive overstimulation. To focus the emotions of the already excited limbic system we direct our mood to openness and vulnerability. To fill the prefrontal lobes we imagine the same hopes and dreams. All of these we repeat together over and over again. Eventually we will have created such huge networks that if the adrenaline hits, the higher brain could go up like a munitions dump dissolving us into the arms of the Great Mother, Eternal Father, God, Allah, Buddha, Brahma, Ahura Mazda or whatever our faith or culture has taught us to call the universal one and only timeless state of grace. Once again, we are using brain ballistics to blow the roof off, but it’s about the only way that we can become oracles ourselves. It can easily leave the unprepared babbling nonsense syllables until normal processing is restored. By synchronizing certain physical and mental practices, we can greet God, join with Jesus, ally with Allah, rally with Ram, dissolve in the Dharma, and come back blessed. Real spiritual masters and saints know how to do this from a standing start, but they have been working at it a lot longer than most of us. Forcing shortcuts through compulsive religious activity or obsessive use of the Asian meditative and tantric traditions can actually be harmful to the unprepared, leading not only to hurt feelings and headaches but mild mental derangement as well. Luckily, there are so many forms of gentler activity both with others and by ourselves that our chosen personal meditative or devotional practices can easily be integrated into our lives. In time, the keys to the good times become easier to find as we find sincere ways



to lose ourselves not out of our minds, but very deeply into our minds. There we will find the answers we were looking for and often when we least expect them. It is interesting to speculate when, and how, the intense effects of interlocking physical and mental exhaustion could have triggered the first transcendental experience. One possible scenario could have been a shuffling “dance” around a guard-fire in front of a prehistoric cave or lean-to.

Fire from Heaven
It is very, very late at night. The wind is arid and warm in the dry season when the grasses dry up and small bands of humans must move continually from place to place seeking water and food. We are back to the time before history, easily forty thousand years ago. This is the original Garden of Eden, primeval and unaware, without priest and without prophet. The brain is now sophisticated enough that our ancestors were finally living as much by their plans as by their primitive weapons. Life was harsh, and the dry season was harsher. The small “family” is asleep. The hunter is keeping watch. The darkness

surrounds him with sounds and stirrings. He shivers in fear. He knows too well the growls of each cat hunting out there in the black night. Beyond the faint light of the flickering coals are the jackals and the hyenas. They are hungrier than the hunter. He knows it. The woman is asleep, the infant is ill, so he must stay awake by walking to and fro in front of the fire. If it dies, if he falters, the animals will come. He knows that too. By himself, or with a brother or clan cousin, night after night he shuffles about the fire, waving his throwing-stick, shouting hoarsely into the darkness where the eyes lie waiting. Hour after hour it continues; the coals glowing at the center of his exhausted circle, the waving stick, the surge of memories and hopes, always the same. They echo through the auditory cortex in unspoken supplication. “Come dawn, come morning light, come before I fall asleep, come save me from this night of darkness, this night of fear.” It may not have been spoken aloud. It may not have even been in words, but it was the seed of

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what would become all chants and all prayers. All night the endless circling, the same movements, the red coals, the smoky smell of the fire exciting the olfactory cortex and priming the limbic system, the same words, the same thoughts exhausting one layer of cells after another in the auditory cortex, the visual cortex fixated on the glowing fire against the blackness of night, blurring, circling. His eyes grow heavy; his mumbling chant keeps beseeching the sun to rise. How often had he shuffled in that same circle? It was nearly every night as they camped across the dry African savanna. Every night the same ritual would be repeated, the same movements, the same overstimulation of the senses and the same exhausted prayer. The ingredients would all be there: rhythmic repetitious physical movement, focused attention in conflict with neural exhaustion, a stimulated anterior cingulate surrounding us with isolation and loneliness and an overstimulated limbic system. It was the same for Moses, troubled and trudging into to a desert sunset in the hot exile of the Sinai. It was the same for Saul, about to become Paul, swaying in rhythm back and forth under a blazing noon on the back of a donkey carrying him to Damascus. Gautama meditated, famished, at the base of a tree as Sujata

approached. Mohammed prayed isolated in a cave in the desert hills. Saviors and Prophets, intense, searching for the inner light. It comes out of the sky, out of blazing bushes, from angels, in deepest meditation and it can be stunning. It knocked Paul right off his donkey, converting him on the spot. Moses exited to start the Exodus, Buddha became enlightened, Mohammed received the Koran, and India’s Mirabai and Sri Chaitanya danced in joy from town to town. Back in the endless rhythms of a prehistoric night, our ancient ancestor is in a nearly hypnotic state. His shuffling movements are on autopilot. His exhausted consciousness is at the sleep threshold, his eyes barely open. Sleep tugs at his mind. He falters. The throwing stick clatters onto the rocks. He lunges forward, skips a beat, trips and stumbles towards the fire. He jerks back, the flames leap, a jackal howls a dozen feet behind him, and it is suddenly just too much. The howl makes it to the auditory cortex but



massive associative networks are starting to break down in overload. Signals break loose as swarms of neurotransmitters clog uptake slots but there’s not enough room. It’s too much to handle. In waves, unleashed chaos begins to surge through overloaded neural channels, shorting out levels of consciousness like floors collapsing in a burning building, plunging the hunter into the fail-safe of sheer being. As his cognitive world dissolves in uncontrolled neural saturation, consciousness veers into pure timeless reality without any limitations. He staggers, momentarily stunned, and drops heavily to his knees before the fire. Is this death? The world sways and sparkles. He reaches out towards his sleeping mate and child. His companions, awakened now, see it all. What is he doing at the fire? Inside his bowed head, the whole history of his labors and devotions are avalanching into the present moment and his body swims in hormonal shock. The overstimulated and exhausted networks flicker and blank out, the cerebellum seizes, the prefrontal cortex wails a chorus to the brain stem, the hippocampus goes haywire, and the limbic system disinhibits. The adrenal rush floods his veins just as reality unhinges. Anything is real now, and anything can be real. The hunter jerks upright like a puppet on a string. The adrenaline hits the visual cortex. His vision clears instantly, his movements become sure and confident and his limbs glow with inner fire. His prayers are answered! God has just kissed him on the top of his brain and he knows that he is the one and only beloved. More than that, he is strong, and he is chosen. Heart pounding, he strides in what seems slow motion to where he keeps his stone ax, grabs it like a toy, and screaming like a demon dashes into the night, smashing jackals into jackal chops as he goes. The first time was unrecorded, but it happened. And when they came to him the next day with the gifts and the fearful respect, there was something new on earth. He had discovered the first internal connection to something beyond ourselves, something that made us much more than ourselves. We, in turn, had discovered the first holy man. There would be many more.

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Varieties of Grace: Taking the Time
If our Paleolithic hero by the fire learns to repeat all the preliminaries exactly the same way again, or if he’s done it enough times, or if he adds any plant intoxicants for a little booster, he may become the first shaman. Over many millennia, the fire and the steps became stylized. Weapons and implements became sacred objects, and heartfelt utterances were formalized into chants and prayers. The holy wisdom took words and was made poetic, but the combination of repeated thought and action that could create a symphony of hormonal overload became a secret understanding, unspoken and still acknowledged with difficulty by those who have been touched by it. It has not been, nor will it ever be adequately described because it is a temporary brush with a consciousness we knew before we knew speech. In fact, the experience usually leaves the faithful temporarily speechless. These ancient paths to a renewed vision eventually became bound into religious and mystic traditions wherever humans live, embodied in innumerable cultural variants wherever there is a priesthood and a tradition. We are actually familiar with many forms of mental and emotional self-cleansing, experiences that may provide some with insight, others with wisdom, and all a richer experience of life. All religions, cults, and even newer holistic philosophies have these practices available within them. For the Christian who seeks a stronger faith, there are eager Evangelicals and passionate Pentecostal preachers to raise the spirit. The Orthodox Jew sways at shul while his kids kibitz with the Kabbala. Muslims can swirl with dervishes, follow Sufi saints, and read Rumi. Hindus and Buddhists have a particularly rich collection of meditative and tantric practices to unlayer and massage the mind in precise degrees. Depending on how far we wish to take our involvement, we can help generate everything from the warm glow of fellowship to the nearly uncontrollable surges associated with ecstatic singing, talking, and dancing.



We can, over time, learn to let loose the ego just enough to work a little better with our friends in the real world, or go all the way and dissolve our personality into the mind of the universe. The prayer can be “Hail Mary,” “Hear, Oh Israel!” “Allahu Akbar,” “Om Mane Padme Hum,” “Amida Butsu,” “Nam-yohorenge-kyo,” or “Hare Krishna.” They all work equally well, so say “Hallelujah,” “Amen,” and “Thank you, Jesus,” “Salaam” and “Shalom.” If we wished any of us could devise our own movements, mantras, prayers, and rituals. With enough practice they would probably do just as well. On the other hand, it’s easier on the personal emotional reality check of our limbic system to use a method historically familiar and culturally natural. If we want to follow one religion or another or even just make use of helpful devotional or meditative practices it is easier to find inspiration within our own culture. Anyone can know Lord Krishna’s love with enough devotion, but returning to Jesus may be easier for a lapsed Christian who was once a child who loved her Bible stories and junior choir. Now that we are a little more familiar with some of the neurological staging behind our transcendental forms of pleasure seeking, it should come as no surprise that none of this can be accomplished without patient and sincere practice. We can’t rush biochemistry, nor can we ever predict when we will harness enough of our neural energy to dissolve chronology and share the incomparable experience. As Diana Ross put it so simply, “You can’t hurry love, no, you just have to wait.” This is probably why both St. Paul and John Calvin stressed that one cannot get a guarantee on heaven with deeds and why Buddhist tradition insists on lifetimes of mindful practice. To even start our journey to fulfillment we must be focused on daily life and the pleasures we find on a moment-to-moment basis. Our attention must be in the present tense, not wandering about in our personal past or our expectations of some desired personal future. When traditional prayers or practices are done with any consistency there will always come a time when the practitioner begins to notice the world is, for some reason, looking better and more inviting. By

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feeding the mind a diet of natural experiences, each well remembered day filed away creates expectations of a similar future. We can’t change our chaotically woven system of human consciousness, but we can start loading the loom with good times and watch the patterns change. We can even darn up the holes in the neural networks we don’t like, build new ones, and fine tune our virtual reality to the tunes that please us the best. The whole purpose, of course, is to reach the point in our lives where from a Western religious perspective the Kingdom of God is at hand or from an Eastern perspective, we are in the Dharma or the Tao, our true and natural path. From a systems approach, we could say that we’re finally running the debugging utilities which can override that cycling glitch in the original software, letting us reset our goals and restart our life. Whatever the path we choose, our purpose will be revealed in the way life itself becomes more inviting than any talk show, soap opera, historical romance, or future cash flow. In reviving and maintaining a full and active involvement in the world around us, we are freed from the gridlock of virtual ego and returned, reborn, to a moving world with a peaceful, personal center. Unfortunately, a lack of rational perspectives on religious belief and practice has had the backward effect of fostering and even promoting a trend towards mindless emotional and devotional fundamentalism in nearly every major world religion. Denied a universal, and thereby a generic, guidebook to the mystical experience and the personal security it can bring, stressed-out seekers in every nation are being manipulated into trading personal will, common sense, and even basic decency for the reassurances of dogmatic certainty in a relative world. This growing need for some sense of final authority in these challenging times of global religious mixing and matching seems to have re-established all the self-appointed guardians of the words of God, be it Gospel, Torah, Koran, Sutra, or Say-So. Hoards are herded into the presence of selfpromoting salesmen of local popular priesthoods, all promising bliss and blessings for simply surrendering all to this guide or that guru. Promising us that we can bring all the problems in our lives and even in the



world to some higher power, media mega-ministers use mobs of orchestrated followers singing, praying, swaying, and chanting to pump up the stimulation levels and hormonally hype unsuspecting souls through the portals of glory. Sinners are slain in the spirit for Jesus Christ, while Hindu devotees experience their synthetic shaktipat with a mantra and a touch. Preachers promising easy certainties swarm in times such as these, taking advantage of national and worldwide stress and frustration to promote their simplistic solutions and the synthetic reassurance of intense and exclusive ritual. As might be expected, few of these shortcuts to Shangri-La have lasting effects. Without the steady and consistent repetition of positive, thoughtful action required to create the natural neural networks and mental associations, these spiritual supersalesmen have to continually hammer their followers into adrenal excess with everything from “love bombing” to fire walks. If the message has to be channeled it’s time to change the channels. When they start waving the holy books, it’s time to wave good-bye. Real priests, pandits, mullahs, and ministers generally avoid this forced rock ‘n roll of the nervous system. There is a good reason that Jesus directed his followers to pray in the privacy of their rooms and why the Buddha directed his students to find calm and quiet places for meditation. The practices that reach the deepest are truly self-tailored; they are not group events. They are personal, and they are precious. The sincere and simple paths to empowerment are there to lift us out of both past and future and rededicate us to the present, the only place shared by us all. In truly finding ourselves again we are not confined to co-practitioners, we are liberated to go and involve ourselves even more fully in the world around us. The big secret, if there ever were one, is that each of us has within us the ability to do it all by ourselves. There’s nothing, and nobody, to prevent us from taking greater pleasure in life by looking at it as the best chance to improve a good situation we ever got. We are, after all, the top of the scale for evolution on this planet, which is a nice place to start from to begin with. With a viewpoint like that, it’s hard to fail.

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Seeking true self-fulfillment for a human, then, is nearly the opposite of the rat with its pleasure button. While lower animals drive themselves quickly to exhaustion, only a small percentage of humans are that compulsive. In fact, most of us do learn to enjoy the conscious generation of joy and happiness as part of our life goals just to make life itself more vibrant. We can get excited about our art, our work, our dance, our friends, our family, our skills, and even our mystical mental spirituality. We can all learn to live inside, and occasionally outside, our limits, learning about ourselves daily in a full involvement with life. It’s not always easy living with a fully evolved human consciousness. We have some unique problems. We slip easily into so many forms of mental mind block, cycling, and repetition, not to mention getting caught in the gridlock of chronological time. On the other hand, it seems that we have developed some useful and even pleasurable mental utilities and even specific applications to enhance and improve our own consciousness. Putting them into practice, we see why the great religious leaders had so little to say about ritual. Jesus never mentions speaking in tongues, nor did Mohammed do Sufi dances. The Buddha walked with his monks teaching from town to town; he did not sit chanting in a cave. Our greatest guides were not telling us to give up on life, but to give out to life and enjoy the greater community of the entire human family. This is why they all speak not of power and wealth, but of simple consideration, forgiveness, generosity, and above all, love and kindness. These are the sort of subtle pleasures that only humans can know, and in practicing them, they bring us always closer to the best of our own humanity, the part of us that makes us more than simply human. They make us fully human; even touched with the brush of the divine. As natural pleasure seekers, then, we have so many ways that we can travel. There is everything from full-blown fantasy to true self discovery and all the stages in between. We can be angry at life’s obstacles and get our excitement stressfully, or we can be enthusiastic about life’s challenges and get it sweet. We can all find ways to make life as stimulating as we want it to be, and we usually use the routines



we’ve gotten used to. But the careful and graduated steps to inner tranquillity and personal fulfillment are also there and available to any of us with the will to improve and the patience to keep at it. Day by day, step by step, and moment by moment we can reweave the tapestry of our own virtual perception with mindful attention to our craft, our art, our hopes, our practice, and our prayers. We can repattern our mind for easy gladness and make personal happiness into a habit. Our tools may be molecules and heavenly experiences are still born in our own brain states, but we can get an entirely new outlook if we give it a try. This is one world that gives us more chances for a good time than we ever thought possible. It is, after all, Eden, Shambhala, Fat City, and the Kingdom of God; and we are right now right in the middle of it. In going beyond our personal, cultural, and even conscious limitations, we have the chance to finally awaken, and aim towards that better world. We just have to take the steps to reach that new perspective, and the vision will change us forever. These days we are going further beyond both our personal and cultural boundaries than we have ever gone in the history of mankind. What happens when we stop chatting, look around, and realize we’re all talking about the same things? Could there be an human mystic experience, a global re-set, and a new awakening of our human consciousness? It seems possible and probable, for all of us now as it has always been for each of us up until now. What will be the result? Gautama gave us a hint in his Heart Sutra, where he got to the heart of it all. In simple Sanskrit it goes. ”Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bhodi, Svaha”. “Go, go, go beyond, go completely beyond, awaken, and rejoice”. In letting go the limits that constrain us and flowing beyond ourselves we finally find ourselves, and there we find our souls. When we all realize how similar we all are, perhaps we can all get beyond the boundaries, discover for once our collective human spirit, awaken, and rejoice. Many of us will be actually be around for this extraordinary development, which may happen sooner than we think. For these lucky ones, it will be a new world. But

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many of us will not be there. It is for them that the next chapter is dedicated, for they will have gone beyond long before, to the final and unknown destination that we actually know so well.


The Last 10 Seconds of Eternity
Heaven, All Ways

It is impossible that anything so natural, so necessary, and so universal as death, should ever have been designed by Providence as an evil to mankind. -- Swift

From the peak of the evolutionary pyramid we survey the world from more perspectives than any other being in creation. And yet the very act of our creation sets in motion a relentless progression leading to our deconstruction. We will all die someday. It’s an edge we don’t peer over very often even in speculation. It remains an abstract concept for anybody reading this because the term “death experience” is an oxymoron. Experience ends with death, which makes experiential information is difficult to obtain and more difficult to prove. We are like a band of travelers who don’t want to discuss our destination because it’s impolite or something. We know the answer. Every single day we spend here is another day in a lifelong trek to our death. From birth we trace an arc, tossed up into the living for a time. But even as we loft into life, our destiny is determined. Life, it seems, has a catch to it. There is an end to it. Eventually we must touch down, and we hope the catch is gentle. Gravity is still master, the grave our final home.

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As children we think nothing of it. We’re too absorbed in a vital present to imagine a finite future. As we grow older we begin to notice mortality and before long we know that we are not everlasting. Long before we understand the certainty of our temporary existence we pray that God will take us into heaven when we die. Wherever that is. Whenever that is. As adults, we interpret it all to the young, trying to explain the reasons behind the experience of life. But when it comes to something as universal as dying, we are still like children. We know where Santa Claus gets the toys and where the Easter Bunny gets the baskets but most of us still hope that if we die before we wake, we trust the Lord our soul to take. Even the most rational among us usually agree that when it comes to that inevitable, ultimate, and final transition, God only knows what happens then. For many more, avoidance is the best refuge against a disturbing realization. As world population grows we notice more people dying all the time. It’s clearly more than a trend. So, we keep our minds fixed on the here and now, rather than the where and when. We live all our lives, and then . . and then . . will the heavenly odds-maker collect the bets and the first person to the other side please tell us what happened? Am I Brahman? A spirit? An angel? Did Jesus love me? Did I miss Nirvana and what? Returned as a turtle for some Buddhist sin? Are these the Elysian Fields, the Happy Hunting Grounds, or - wrong turn - doggy heaven for Rover? The more we think about it the more we realize how undefined this most inevitable of destinations remains. We know more about the moon than death and very few have gone to the moon. All who went, however, returned and that’s the difference. The moon is a temporary destination. Death is forever. Where or how we spend that forever remains a bothersome unanswered question for a lot of us. This is an innocence we keep throughout life with much guesswork and very few authorities. We cannot speak with authority ourselves and those with real expertise have nothing to say at all. Dead men tell no tales. Still, as most of us prefer something to nothing, we accept various versions of the life or lives everlasting as described in traditional religious or spiritual beliefs. Those who find a path they can trust



know the peace of the mighty and the comfort of the meek. As we grow older we begin to understand we all want it. If truth were told nearly all non-believers would love to have a reason to believe.

Uncommon Destinations: Traditional Views of Heaven and Hell
In comparing the afterlives of the world’s great traditions there are many similarities. At first, singing in angelic Christian choirs and exiting Buddha’s wheel of life seem far removed from each other. And yet there is the same ultimate peace. There is a journey, or return, to a higher and better existence where the pains and repetitions of life on this earth are left behind. We find a new existence in a new universe, an eternal place without end. That is as long as we’re believers. Living in the cross-cultural currents of our global society it is hard to realize that less than a hundred years ago, wherever we lived we were either a believer or an infidel. Today, although fundamentalist sects of major world religions still bar non-believers from their heavens, most thinking people would agree Gandhi was working on the same wavelength as Mother Teresa and allow for cultural variations. This was unthinkable a century ago when major world religions were more geographically centered. So what about death and the beyond? Most religions share a general consensus about a number of stages. At some point of time between when we stop breathing and when we start coming apart, the non-physical part of us (soul, mind, spirit, atman, etc.) leaves for another place. Our mortal bodies, created at the same time as this eternal part or housing it during this life, proceed to compost. Our soul, spirit, mind, being, etc., continues to exist in a mindful if disincorporated fashion as it starts a journey onward. There may be an initial purging, depending on what we did during our life on earth. The Purgatory of Roman Catholicism has its similarities to the Tibetan’s mid-way Bar-do world between lives. Swedenborgian theology prescribes doing time in a spirit world to refine us enough to experience God full-strength. It’s important to note it seems we cannot stay in any of these places indefinitely. Whether time in a purgatory or a few extra lives

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to clean up the karma, sooner or later we progress. This is for ordinary people of course. True saints go directly to the good place and real evildoers get the trapdoor to the bad place. Then comes judgment. Our deeds are totaled, our purgations accounted for, and we are assigned to a much longer stay somewhere else. If we are now acceptable, we go to heaven or Brahman or Nirvana or Amitabha’s Pure Lands and stay there forever. If not, back to purging, more lives, or worse. Most eventually reach a nice eternity, which comes in nearly every variety depending on the time, culture, and nature of the writer. Fortunately most of us don’t read outside our own traditions. A Catholic who showed up in the heaven of the Shin Buddhists, rebirth in the Pure Lands, would probably assume Franciscans had taken charge of eternity in this merciful agrarian paradise. The displeasure of a Viking waking up in Hebrew Sheol, a very sober place, when death in battle entitled him to the eternal fraternity party of Valhalla would not be printable here. Mormons enshrine marriage on earth so in Mormon heaven you keep your mate. A blessed Muslim male, however, can meet dozens of beautiful women in male-oriented Islamic bliss. Serious Christians sing alleluias as joyous celibates. Celibate old Himalayan monks could find themselves reborn in the “God realm” as minor tantric deities in eternal union with appropriate female consorts complete with four arms, lotus, prayer beads, and a yak-tail fly whisk. Hell, likewise, seems to vary about as much as we insist on a literal interpretation of the Holy Word. In the hot lands of the Middle East, birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, cool is heavenly so hell was hotter than blazes. Ironically, the word “hell” is taken from the Norse underworld, an abode locked in everlasting snow and ice. They would have loved some heat in original Hell, where frost giants stalked and cold was the killer. Buddhist scriptures describe both hot and cold hells, further subdivided by Tibetans into picturesque categories and names such as “Ah-choo,” an endless cold in the nose. This may be why orthodox Taoists borrow Buddhist heavens but prefer Taoist hells. Jains have the most hells, exactly 8.4



million, but the Muslim Jahannam seems to be precisely the same place as the Hebrew hell Gehenna, a truly hellish prospect for any evil Arab. The reason that hell is still not the final judgment is that all hells seem to have a back door to them. A really bad Buddhist will simply be recycled in rebirth after rebirth until the karma is all gone, no matter how long it takes. Christians have until the very last moment to make peace with God. Even if an evil unfortunate ends up in the place with the pitchforks, the message of Christ promises forgiveness whenever true repentance appears. Since the Second Vatican Council this last chance option has been official for Catholics but it’s been Hindu faith forever. Even the most sinful swami could return only so many times as a Calcutta street beggar before getting back on the straight track to Shiva after a while. It’s just the trip that is longer and rougher for some than it is for others. Since most, if not all, of unpleasant detours are apparently incurred or avoided by the manner in which we live this present life, religious teachers provide insights and methods useful not only to us now, but able to transport us to a good eternity without too many intermediate stops in those unpleasant places. In fact, one of the ways by which we can distinguish one religion from another is by its afterlife. The great saints speak similar wisdom but the Pope and the Dalai Lama have distinctly different retirement homes when their good works are done. The reward of Christianity is instant heaven while the enlightened Boddhisattva is recycled for future lives spent helping others. This is eternal, either way. Once the journey is over, we spend the rest of forever in the nicest place imaginable. Theologians write of everlasting oneness. Those with more vivid imaginations have for centuries expounded on the unspeakable, ineffable, glorious, indescribable and so on last stop. It’s always our eternal home. It’s always just what we wanted. Like “happy”, heaven seems the same to all peoples and still very personal to each of us. Death, not life, is the event that unites us all and yet still it separates us to such different and personal places. We all die, we all take that final journey, but regional religions still tend to determine our

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personal beliefs and faithful expectations. Those without faith suspect such expectations are pure romance but most of us still hope to arrive at the destination our cultural religious faith has always promised. The explanations may come in many languages but they all seem to describe the same experiences. Different guides report scenery appropriate to their custom and culture but they all cover the same territory and come to the same place when earthly time stops and eternity begins. The promise is always fulfilled - by God, by Allah, by Dharma or the T’ao. The steps are so regular and consecutive they suggest a common heavenly blueprint. Might there be a basic, underlying pathway to the beyond? Again the possibility arises. If this is such a universal human experience, could we be looking at brain states again? So far, the neural process itself seems to answer most of the questions that appear to be human rather than cultural. What happens at death must be the grand-daddy of them all, the biggest question in the mind of mankind. Is it answerable? The real problem is that although we are all promised appropriate afterlives, no scripture explains just how we shift over to this timeless universe that appears only when we are dead and gone. None of us come with a shop manual to describe how we can accomplish this leap to immortality given the only tools at hand: our old, sick, dying mortal selves. These days, most of us don’t like to believe in magic. If it’s really possible to go to heaven it’s time we came up with an explanation that makes some sense. Now that modern medical technology seems to be able to keep any of us, or for that matter any part of us, alive nearly indefinitely there is a renewed interest in just what happens afterward. No one in recent history has died and returned to life, and nobody yet has been known to survive brain death. We do have, however, volumes of reports from those who got close enough to stick a toe across and beat it back before too late. By reviewing available information we begin to get a picture of death that may help guide us towards the explanations we seek. The physical requirements for human consciousness are simple, absolutely quantifiable, and they were listed in Chapter 2. Our brain requires 3.3 ml. of oxygen for every 100 grams of mass per minute and



a blood glucose level of 80-120 mg per 100 ml. It must eliminate waste toxins and it requires the correct blood pressure. Every aspect of brain function has precise requirements and limitations. We can’t survive ten minutes without oxygen. Anything seriously interrupting blood flow stops everything. The result in every case is brain coma, a normally irreversible unconsciousness preceding brain death. Almost all of us will lapse into brain coma before we die. Not surprisingly, each year a few bounce back without serious brain damage and describe the experiences they had. A number of survivors of these near-death experiences were cataloged for similarities by Dr. Kenneth Ring, one of the first physicians to conduct serious research into the phenomena. Placed in the order they were perceived, these reports suggest a series of common experiences. Subjects reported “peace and contentment” (60%), “detachment from the physical body” (37%), “entering the darkness” (23%), “seeing the light” (16%), and “entering the light” (11%). Since most patients suffering the sorts of trauma experienced by this group do not recover, survival ratios would favor those who experienced only the first stages of brain coma. The low percent reporting “entering the light” is probably because most of those who get that far don’t survive. Along with these near-death revival stories there are the last words of those who died describing their final visions, often leaving poignant images of a place beyond. Interestingly, these visions are almost uniformly pleasant and often include parents or other relatives and friends who had died before. Finally, there are the descriptions from skilled Indian swamis and Tibetan meditation masters. These adepts seem to have held onto their minds fiercely through their last few moments, reporting everything they were experiencing until even they fell silent. There are many common themes: a miraculous transformation, leaving the physical body, heavenly beings, a bright light, and a final peaceful merging. Only the details seem to be cultural. Nirvana never arrives for a devout Dominican nun. Holy Hindus drop their bodies and achieve final samadhi but they never meet Mother Mary. It is our own life that we experience, our own relatives who greet us along the

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way. Left unanswered is how we can greet our grandparents if they are off with their own grandparents, the “paradox of the infant grannies.” Holy books seem strangely incomplete. The inevitable crowds of Chinese in paradise are not mentioned in any Christian biblical text. Even heavenly angels meet cultural expectations; wings for Christians, non-winged for Hindus. Heaven is always a curious combination of human universals and cultural specifics. As all human cultures have religions, it seems likely that

experiences predicted by all religions might be common to human consciousness. As the same images appear both in the sayings of revered prophets and from first-hand reports of near-death, or “clinical death” and revival, it suggests there might be a neurological explanation for it. Saviors and prophets have always been able to tell us where we went after death. It appears science may finally be ready to provide a reasonable explanation of how we actually get there.

Welcome Home: Return To Eternity
So what happens at death? If you have been reading this book chapter by chapter, at this point the nature of the experience of death may be apparent already. If we once spent forever winding up the mental clock that ticks us through time and space, the endless time between conception and the age of three, it would take just as long to wind it down. From a strictly medical point of view the brain will begin to suffer permanent damage at normal temperature after ten minutes without its support systems. Still, even during normal human brain death the major organs systems supporting the brain couldn’t instantly collapse all at once. In other words, even if we wanted we couldn’t just pull the plug on consciousness. The human brain at the point of death has billions of functioning neurons. Each is different. Each is alive. As death arrives they cannot all suddenly die at the same moment. That would be impossible. They die off over some period of time and their more sensitive functions go first. From the most sensitive dendrites, the most exposed



cortical cells to the most embedded neurons in the brain stem, the brain dies by degrees. Our chips unplug one by one as our mental networks simplify around us. Since it is the activity of the human brain that permits and limits our awareness of anything else, how will our awareness change as the brain changes during the time of death? Unless the brain is suddenly destroyed, the stages of brain death cannot vary very much from one person to another. We have known many forms of consciousness since our unborn days when our brain was a fraction of its current mass or complexity. We’re bound to lose our more recent mental capabilities long before we reach any final end. It must simplify in a somewhat predictable progression. As our brain dies our mind will gently unwind. Before death we will fall into irreversible brain coma. Brain coma, however, is not by any means the end. It is the end of this worldly consciousness yes, but also the beginning of a return to an earlier form of consciousness and an earlier universe. During sleep, for instance, normal waking consciousness does not operate as the brain goes through its necessary rest and recreation, exercising some functions while letting others doze. We have all had the morning dream that seemed to last hours, only to waken and discover we had been asleep only few minutes. When our time sequencing structures in the prefrontal cortex are offline, dreams can pack months into a few moments. Experiencing an eternal afterlife, it appears, may be a lot simpler than we thought. If we pull the switch on time itself, we will have plenty of time for any special effects to come later. Harvard researcher Alan Hobson believes our dreams are neither Freudian films nor mystical guides. They’re simply artifacts created when higher brain centers are stimulated with irregular bursts of neural static from the brain stem during sleep. Emotional states aroused in this manner take visual form but since the prefrontal structures are taking a nap, chronological time and abstraction are off-line and unavailable. The most remarkable thing about dreams is the ability to alter a scene seamlessly, so that one can return to one’s childhood home and see it aged correctly even though the house itself may have ceased to exist. The

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mind can easily “morph” any image, allowing us to float or even fly in a dream by creating visual transforms of scenery as if seen from a height or unusual perspectives such as floating over our own body. This is a small example of how an “unconscious” mind can experience a consciousness quite unattached to worldly perception. The important difference is that dream images must be synthesized internally from our own memories. Nobody else can get into our heads really, so all dream people and their actions have to be fashioned from our own recollections. A dream scenario is a perfect example of a temporary timeless virtual reality we experience completely by ourselves, without help from external powers, spiritual or temporal. Although dreams are populated with beings, human and otherwise, they have their origin in our own memory, altered temporarily to meet the demands of a dream plot. They cannot be original, speak new lines, or unveil anything beyond our own imagination. They are, in fact, ourselves, our versions of images, people, and places; a fully functioning one person universe that seems to operate quite well. In nearly all forms of death, consciousness will go unconscious before death arrives. This means that we can still be aware, unconscious but in a dream-like state even as the brain dies, cells winking out at random, axons sending their final messages, dendrites reacting, failing, and finally falling silent. The actual experience of the simplification of our brain will be perceived as the gradual simplification of our mind over a period of time which will seem endless. As our neural nets unravel, we gradually return to the final eternity of the undifferentiated mind that we knew since we were created, and long before we were born. The progressive stages of brain death specifically responsible for the near-death experiences reported by Ring’s subjects have been known for some time. They were first collected and put into general order by Canadian neurosurgeon Leslie Ivan. The brain starts to die as the delicate balance of its blood chemistry begins to change. Usually something interferes with blood oxygenation and as oxygen levels drop, neural firing rate begins to



decrease. This is what tranquilizers do, and it creates the pleasant dreamy “peace and contentment” felt by so many near death. The buildup of carbon dioxide and other toxins in the blood start to create distortions in cortical firing patterns, while deep in the limbic system, specific endorphin receptors begin to react to the falling oxygen levels. Generalized physical sensations, dissociation from the body, and even euphoria begin to occur. At about the same time, the visual cortex begins to fail, along with structures in the prefrontal cortex. Our sense of time and space begin dissolve, bending us gently back toward our beginnings. As memories and emotions are released from the controls of time, ancient images from the past flow into a consciousness that is no longer either exact or discriminating. These are the same endorphins we remember from our birth as we begin to retrace our ancient path. Soon, either blood loss or changes in blood chemistry have progressed so that brain cells are beginning to die at random. The visual cortex is a sophisticated structure near the surface of the brain. It is especially vulnerable. As neurons die from the periphery to the center, the image of a tunnel of light begins to form in the mind. Visual memory patterns start to lose definition and fade as nerve cells disconnect and misfire. The inhibitory rule structures of our virtual reality continue to crash as uncontrolled neural hyperactivity calls up vivid images and timeless dream sequences from random static. As the visual cortex continues to simplify, the color scale begins to alter and dissolve back to the earliest color we knew, back to a primeval deep red. It’s not the fires of hell, but an endless sunset that finally fades to the familiar darkness we knew from the very beginning, long before our own dawning, before we were born. The darkness begins to surround us. Beyond the red sunset, there remains the dull glow. Consciousness is quickly losing the last edge of specific definition as the continued destruction of the neural networks increases. The last fits and flashes illuminate the great ocean of darkness with pinpoints of blazing energy, the stars, the lights we see as we head into our new-old universe. We are among the stars now and we begin to move toward the distant light. That light is the last signal of all, when all signals from

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this universe have faded into the starry night. Like our last call from this earth, our failing reality filter, the dying reticular activating system., surges, yanking consciousness tight for a final moment. We sign our own names in this universe for the last time and return to our final home. When we get there, we will enter the light and become the light. We know where we are going on our last journey because we came this way before. Now we return. Each of us will, in time, one at a time, join in this final shared experience. We must travel together with the mind that made us as the weave is gently unwoven. As our brain, the great analyzer and discriminator, moves moment by moment to the final and ultimate simplicity of one last living cell, we are moving with it. We will never know that it is we that are simplifying. A simpler mind cannot know concepts that require a brain no longer capable of discriminating thought. We are now moving backward into ancient memories we could never recall on earth, from a much simpler time. We are returning to the other universe we know, the universe we always knew, our old eternal home. Where do we make our transcendent ascension? Probably between our disassociation from the body and the light, which is as far as has been reported. The most detailed reports we have come from highly trained Tibetan lamas whose last words were filled with specific descriptions of the stages in the dissolution of their worldly consciousness. The sequence, as described by the Venerable Lati Rinpoche and Jeffrey Hopkins of the University of Virginia, even includes changes in the color of the sky as one begins the final journey into the Bar-do, the “gone-beyond.” The dream sky at the beginning of death is initially bright white. White is the mixture of all colors at equal intensity. It’s a good description of how the background will appear in early brain coma when the visual cortex starts to disinhibit. We imagine the color of all colors simply because the visual controls aren’t working. It’s the classic blank screen; the computer is still on but nothing is happening. As the prefrontal cortex begins to go timeless we lose all visual definition and the sky slowly fades to red; the



lowest color in the human visual color spectrum. It is also the earliest color we knew. According to the Tibetans, we then see “points of light, like sparks.” The brain’s video card is nearly gone. Finally there comes darkness and the “setting face to face with the clear light of death.” We are returning to the universe we knew before birth. Back when we were the only known universe, the only one we’d ever known. We have a lot of brain left, but we are now as timeless and as sightless as our seventh month in the womb. We are the one and only again, this time forever. Scientists prefer independent verification for theories that consciousness may still be perceiving cogently while the brain is simplifying during death. Without a single scanner and the most rudimentary knowledge of brain science the lamas had been describing in sequence the gradual death of the brain while the event was actually in progress. They never went beyond the “clear light of death” in their lucid descriptions. By that time they had stopped talking and “gone beyond” to the most profound and universal state of mind we will ever encounter in our lives. In the final return to our own beginning the circle is completed for each of us. From eternity to eternity, and all conveniently in one lifetime. This does seem to be our path; but what is our personal experience? It is probably a blessed event, as gently reassuring as our birth was once so bewildering moments ago. With timelessness fast approaching, our lifetime will seem a short vacation, almost a dream, in some barely-recalled other world. As

discrimination falters we begin to remember forever and see again the sights we saw when we had just arrived from where we are now returning. Tall beings greet us, past lives unravel in endless eons of our own infancies. There are rounds of judgment, followed by rounds of forgiveness as long forgotten years of our deepest past return. Years appear now between the minutes of earthly time, centuries between seconds, even more between the tenths of seconds. Finally, as was promised by God or our own faith, we are returned to oneness forever. Had there ever been anything else? By then, we cannot perceive anything else. By that time we are eternally reconciled, as the heart, the mind, the soul, and the universe all merge in the

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journey back to one, the journey that can never end. Eternity arrives early. It comes with our final consciousness, just a few minutes before final brain death. We will never be able to perceive death itself. We’ll run out of time and self long before it gets to us. The final catch is gentle indeed. We have nothing at all to worry about. We all go home in the end to the timelessness of another universe that remembers nothing and is forever. Although this gradual simplification of consciousness agrees with information we have from the scientific community it must remain speculative. Final confirmation remains impossible because of the nature of cellular life. There is a threshold below which a dying cell is dead and unrevivable. Anything which would take consciousness to a unified, timeless state would probably kill off so many brain cells in the process we may as well stay there. If revived, we would suffer from hopeless brain damage, trapped in a body completely inappropriate to our mental state. When faced with the question of removing life support from the brain dead, Pope Pius XII suggested in irreversible coma the soul may have already left the body. It appears he was right, and in even suggesting it he demonstrated how easily religion can incorporate rigorous neurological perspective as a backup for wisdom that was always available. “If science can prove something exists even if Buddhist teachings deny its existence, we should seriously consider revising the teachings.” said the Dalai Lama in 1997. If we can experience endless lifetimes without erecting multiple universes, why not? Ockham’s razor works for Asian monks too. Still, the final proof will always be missing. Our best witnesses leave us before it’s over. Among the living, then, we can have no trustworthy reporters. Brains and minds in the midst of organization towards complexity are in the heads of people too young to speak and still unable to reason. Likewise, dying people end with their dying words. We never hear about their final destination. The Book of the Dead must still be read on faith, but it seems not an unreasonable hope to expect eternity. In fact, there seems no way to avoid it. Due to time distortions which must occur as we lose chronological control



there is no way to know how long it takes to regress a soul back to eternity. Brain cells are capable of firing dozens of times in a second. We could slow down to a graceful forever in the blink of an eye. By the time we reach our own place, time will have stopped for each of us.

Living Well and Dying Right
Death is usually gentle, but most traumatic deaths still could not prevent consciousness from going timeless. There would be a swifter transfer to earthly unconsciousness and brain coma but then our comfortable and steady return to eternity would begin. Many victims of shootings, stabbings, car accidents or massive loss of blood slide into unconsciousness first, and quickly into their final journey without further pain or problems. Common diseases such as cancer, heart attacks, or failures of major organ systems would seem nearly guaranteed to launch us smoothly toward paradise. Should a boulder drop on our head, however, there might be no death dream experience at all. We would be eternally in the moment before it happened because in a fraction of a second, less time than it takes to get another frame ready in the visual cortex, all perception would suddenly disappear. Neural impulses travel at about 80 miles per hour. Anything hitting us going faster than that take us to forever faster than we know what happened. We simply remain in the moment before we never saw it coming. We wouldn’t miss heaven; in fact we wouldn’t miss anything at all. As long as we didn’t see it coming. This brings us to one variety of death that should at all cost be avoided: the violent destruction of the brain while in a disrupted mental state such as panic, pain, misery, or terror. In such an instance, regression could not occur and eternity would be the last consciousness available. Facing the gun that blows your head away or frozen with terror in an injured aircraft that has not gone instantly to pieces are versions of the worst death of all. For those unable to calm their own minds either by religious faith or powerful meditative ability, eternity is dismal. Every religion in the world has its ghosts. They are without exception described

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as disconnected souls of those who died a violent death. There was no last option out. For those who ask “What about Hitler?” they have their answer. Most of his victims went to heaven, but by shooting himself in the head, he probably made it impossible for himself. There can be no easy exit in a brain blown to pieces during a suicidal depression.

Karma and Compassion: Why It’s Good to Be Good
There is a natural justice in the way it seems to work out. If our regression into timelessness is within our own mind, it is within a closed system. Any road to heaven must be paved with our own good intentions or at least the memories from a life spent that way. At the start of death we leave the open system, the world around us, and enter the closed system that exists only within us. Now our only reality is our virtual reality and we must live in the world of images we made ourselves. Any recognizable heavenly or hellish scenarios will be mental constructions arising from our dying networks, just as we made earlier dream images from memories when the forebrain took a nap and time was “off.” This time we will join with the dream. We shall not wake again to the world of troubles or pain. We are already long gone beyond that place. From a neurological perspective, this self-made aspect of our death scenarios provides impetus for ethical behavior as convincing as any religion currently practiced on earth. In doing so, it also provides a rationale for living a good and decent life that is as tempting and certainly as believable as any promise of any happy rebirth, heaven, or after-life. It has already been demonstrated that we cannot have any actual reality in our minds, just our virtual reality, our personal perception. At birth, and for our first three years, the constant change in the growing brain prevents the repetition of memory that characterizes the mature brain. It is only as we start to create and extend larger networks through repetition they become extensive enough to survive the distortions of early brain death. Infants who die in the womb, soon after birth from birth defects, or even during infancy



would naturally have an easy return to timeless oneness. There would be little repeated experiential detail to disturb a smooth regression to the original mind. However, for most of us, by the time we die we have a lifetime of memories to draw on. One thing is clear. The endless path we take during death may be outside the bounds of normal time and space but it begins inside our heads only after our normal senses have shut down. The outside world ceases to exist, leaving us only images from past personal experience. Whatever we had been doing in life, we are stopped and sent packing to eternity with whatever we have packed in our memories up to that moment. This can be nice for those with minds filled with a life rich with kindness and simple pleasures. If we spend a lot of time worrying or stressed, however, there could be roomfuls of blues to endure on our way to wherever after. In the first part of our death experience, everything will be happening at once and forever but it’s all ultimately derived from our own past. We are creating our eventual eternity every day of our lives. It is really something to think about. This thoroughly scientific viewpoint does not repudiate the words of the saints, saviors, and prophets of the Western religions. It only substantiates the truth of their wisdom when it comes to how to live this life with respect to the afterlife. Clearly our struggle with this chaotic world, both internal and external, sends too many towards a life of selfishness and misery on earth and sheer hell afterward. If we listen to the words of Jesus and live a life as He taught, if we study the Torah and live by the laws of the God of Israel, or if we read the Koran and live in the light of Allah through the writings of his Prophet, we will have very little to worry about later. If we make life hard for ourselves and others, we’ll take the long and hard way home. It’s simply inevitable any way we look at it. A Christian, Muslim, or Jew can use these insights as the best scientific proof yet that every practicing Christian, Jew, and Muslim will certainly go to heaven when they die.

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Asian religions as well, being systematic in nature, take naturally to the systems of natural law, science, and neurology. From an Asian perspective, what actually happened at any point in our lives will never be as important as what our state of mind was. “He Ram!” “Praise God” cried Ghandi as he was shot, dying with the name of God on his lips. If we spend a lot of time being hopeful, helpful, kind, generous, supportive and reliable, we should have very nice “endless lifetimes” on the way to our final Samadhi, Satori, Brahman, or Nirvana. If we spend a lot of time angry, depressed, selfish, irritable, or withholding, these may be the only backdrops available when the mind takes us timeless. The last few seconds of our death will seem to be so much longer than our entire life on earth that we would do well to consider it every day. It’s also an up-to-date explanation for the “law of karma”. The concept of karma in Asian philosophy speaks directly to the accumulation of neural networks that bias reality and delay enlightenment. Karma is created only with intention, which requires conscious attention. Intention to do good produces “good karma” and intending to harm creates “bad karma.” Stepping on a bug we never saw would create no karma but looking for a bug to step on would create very bad karma. Tibetan lama Thupten Kalsang, even in his forties, spoke with anguish of the day when as an eight year old child monk he once deliberately squashed a flea. With his training, he could never forget it. Giving to the poor creates good karma while working for pay is no karma. It is where our mind was at the time that makes all the difference. Conscious intention focuses our mind, creating deeper memories we re-encounter during death and we never know where one might show up. In that sort of chaos, memories can merge backward with other events and we could find ourselves being squashed by a huge flea in an extended time frame. Once neural destruction starts, entropy takes over and God only knows what images will arise during the first stages of forever. Even the immediate cause of our death will not have as much to do with our death experience as our general state of mind leading up to it. There are forms of suicide which are gentle, but



religions universally argue against self destructive acts. Moods which lead to suicide, even for terrorists who blow themselves up for a cause, build up over time. They are deep feelings of helplessness, pain, and rage which would not be fun to relive for eternity. Depression and anger may pass, but our trip to forever never ends. It could be hellish if we don’t work it out before we leave. Our human lifetime is the one and only chance we have to make sure any future lifetimes will be the nice everlasting even if it all takes place during death. Our eventual return to the timeless state of our basic, formless mind agrees nicely with aspects of Asian teaching which declare we won’t reach Nirvana or Brahman until all our karma is exhausted. Whether we spend “endless lifetimes” in timeless scenarios based on a good and virtuous life or in various hells and scare shows derived from unpleasant memories, we still cannot reach the really final places until the brain has so simplified that our neural networks can’t sense any images at all. In fact, eternity with specifics must be just the first part of the experience. This unusual time and space of “forever first and more later” is made possible because we are no longer using sequential time. It helps explain Lord Bhairab’s endless lifetimes express back in Benares as well as Jesus Christ’s description of the life everlasting. We can do eternity in a moment once we turn off time. By the time we reach true brain stem consciousness we shall all be reconciled but we must still reach that final union with God and the Great Mother along the path we made ourselves during our one and only life on earth. The final judgments on the way will be only what we deserve and just rewards are provided to those who have every reason to expect them. It’s fortunate we have lots of advice on how to get to the good place without a scratch. The best bet, quoting John Wesley, is to “Do all the good you can, in every way you can, to whomsoever you can, at any time you can, just as long as ever you can.” He died in his eighties from pneumonia contracted riding hours through bad weather to minister to a sick friend living at a distance. He is probably enjoying endlessly the love he gave and received all his life. Doing good to others always makes us feel good in the present tense,

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and it’s nice to know it’s piling up even better dividends for an endless future that always comes sooner than expected. We can bank on that.

The Universal Journey: Light unto Light
Luckily, when we take a good look back at our lives most of us are not dissatisfied. The great majority of us, therefore, can look forward to experiencing the blessed miracle of losing our perception of earthly time and the discrimination of comparative thought in one smooth curve down to our last living moment. The beauty of this elegant process, described medically as normal brain death, is that we will find ourselves lost in timelessness before we get halfway to the end, and it will take forever to get us even that far. This very personal regression to the infinite is reminiscent of equally unworldly phenomena at quite the opposite end of the size scale. In astronomy we have learned about stellar objects known as “black holes”. They can be seen only as dots of utter darkness. A collapsed star in the center has shrunken to a point so dense that its gravity lets nothing at all, even light, escape from its surface. There is an imaginary ring in space around such a black hole, referred to as the Schwartzchild radius or the “event horizon.” This is the outer limit of a swirling gravitational vortex, the dark whirlpool that can seize anything at all, and whirl it into that darkness forever. Observing an object in space, if it were to slip over an event horizon it would not disappear immediately from our sight. As it approached the rim the vortex starts to suck in any light. Massive gravitational waves surge through it, creating distortions in time and space as it begins an endless spiral to the invisible center. To an observer, it seems to reach the event horizon and stop in place as it slowly fades away. The moment it went over the edge there was nothing left but the old image. Everything else has already gone beyond, beyond human imagination, beyond even the laws of science, forever. If it were you there, friends watching from earth would see you disappear slowly at the edge of darkness rather like the Cheshire Cat, perhaps with a last smile while, surrounded in your own light, in another time and



space you are disappearing into the center of brightness, in final perfect union with perfect union itself, the completely compressed brilliant matter of the primeval universe. Nothing returns from that journey. Even stars wink out when they meet the event horizon. They are going to where we cannot follow, over the edge of darkness to the city of light. Death as we watch it seems very much the same. We see our loved ones simply posed, as they were poised a moment ago, in their last visible form in this universe while in another, deeper reality they have already started toward a true and timeless light. We on the outside could see eons pass before their journey will end or that light could fail. They are moving now into the timeless eternity that we left so long ago and the journey will take them just about forever and not a moment less. The universe finally unfolds itself for us again in a profound return like the return of the tide that sweeps us finally into the endless sea. It makes no difference whether it takes five days or five minutes or five seconds. Time will stop for each of us. As our memories simplify, we are greeted and accepted and passed backward into places of greater and greater love. For who did not love us as infants? Back we spiral as days, months, centuries appear between the moments of earthly time. We start to circle endlessly into the center of the only universe we knew, our everlasting light, our welcome home. Suns, moons, stars; all can come and go many times and that light will never fail. We have never been that far away from eternity; we carry it with us all our years. It finally comes for us when it is time for time to transcend again in the clear light of death. We have our time here and much to do and then we will return home again. We never expected most of what has come to us so far in this life but this is one thing we can almost surely count on if we have any faith in reason and basic neuroanatomy. The religious already celebrate this promise through their chosen faith, since, allowing for cultural and historical variations they come to nearly identical conclusions. The great prophets of the past used legend and poetry to teach us how to live well and how to die well. We have so much more power in this age of

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science that it is important to know the best science we have tells the same story. We have nothing at all to fear. We are born from eternity into the heart of love. We are each absolutely unique and ultimately universal. We are each of us now, and each of us is forever. Christian, Muslim, and Jew can praise the God of Abraham for giving us such a blessed system as well as a Prophet and a Savior to show us just how to use it. Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist can appreciate a neuro-dharma with ease. Karma is conserved, Nirvana is nearby, and flowing with the T’ao seems to take us naturally to the stars. We become once; and we can never unbecome. We all experience life until we experience death and it is death itself that will take us on our own endless journey to that expected and appointed meeting with eternity. We are now; and we are forever. We can bet on that with statistical probability, from everlasting to everlasting for sure. Our story will not be repeated, but it’s a happy ending. We can have faith in that and every reason to believe.


Preparing for the Coming Faithquake
Faith Tectonics and New World Religions

“If God had wanted it that way, He would have made you all of one religion, but He has done otherwise so to test you in the various ways He has given you. Therefore, press forward in good works; unto God shall you return and He will tell you about those areas in which you disagree." —The Koran

There is serious problem facing mankind It is based on the powerful effects of a global society on religious faiths which originate in differing cultural traditions. More than ever before, there is now a strong probability the next fifty years will witness the emergence of new world religions. Are we ready for this next step in our social evolution? Opinions differ, but the facts remain. Traditional religion may be the last casualty of the twentieth century, surviving in the form of cultural archives, greatly reduced in authority and influence.

Preparing for the Coming Faithquake


It would hardly seem that way based on current trends. Over eighty-six percent of Americans call themselves Christian. In 1993, Christian fundamentalists in Vista, California elected enough candidates to a local school board to require the teaching of Bible-based history. Two months later, a fundamentalist rabbi in Jerusalem condemned a local dairy for suggesting dinosaurs on its milk cartons were millions of years old, “despite the fact the world was created only 5,753 years ago.” In Egypt that same week, fundamentalist Muslims in Abu Zabaar prison were recruiting supporters when one of the thugs cursed Islam. The resulting brawl, which lasted three hours, left three dead and eighty five wounded. Why are the devout getting so aggressive? Because they feel threatened, and they have good reason to feel that way. Even as the faithful gather together worldwide, the orderly integration of world religions, once limited by sheer physical distance, has gotten completely out of control. There are now more Muslims than Unitarians in the United States and the Mormons are expanding rapidly in Brazil. Evangelical Christianity is enjoying phenomenal growth in Korea, while in America, Korean Sun Myung Moon preaches a married Christ who is himself. Japanese Buddhist evangelists teach Los Angelenos to chant the Lotus Sutra while German Neo-Hindus in saffron jhabalas chant Hare Krishna in Red Square, ignoring both the cold weather and the cold war between Russian Orthodox priests and Western tele-preachers bent on rustling their new-found flocks with heavy-metal hallelujah revivals. It’s open season for souls, it seems, but has anybody taken account of where this is all going to end up? To be frank, if human society does not come up with some generally acceptable world principles acceptable to all world religions fairly soon, millions of people will needlessly suffer and perish in confrontations based on ancient religious disagreement. It seems we’re approaching an inevitable spiritual showdown. Sooner or later, we will have to stop debating whose God is God and whose Holy



Scriptures are the ones to trust. Who’s responsible for all this? Will the God in charge please stand up, or is that now our job since we’re the ones who stood up 40,000 years ago and took over the place?

The Roots of Regional Religious Tradition
Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson believes massive climactic changes were the ignition point behind the Western religions. At Harvard Divinity School’s 175th anniversary in 1992 he described desert-like Middle Eastern landscapes as lushly vegetated in recent prehistory, a true Garden of Eden. Rapid drying of the region acted as a ecological shock wave, dislocating cultures and formalizing religion while oral traditions still spoke of times when life was very different. Likewise, the cultural upheavals represented by the invasions of Aryans, Mongols, and Muslims had a similar effect on religious traditions in Asia and South Asia. Local caste cohesiveness divided entire regions into traditional roles. Since caste itself was part of the religion, when the threat became too intense, Indian and Tibetan tantric traditions evolved which deliberately transcended cultural boundaries and conventions. These Hindu and Buddhist esoteric practices, according to religious scholar Alexander Berzin, appeared when whole societies were searching for spiritual powers to counteract very real fears. When God only knows what’s going to happen next, it’s important to know how to ask for help. As it happens all the major world religions originate in specific geographic locations with cultural traditions built in from the beginning. The Mediterranean basin was the cradle for Judaism and early Christianity, which followed the Roman empire to Europe and then to the Americas. From the Arabian desert, Mohammed’s message spread south and east from Africa to Persia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The teachings of the Buddha traveled the trade routes south to Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar, and the silk roads east to China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. Lao Tzu and Confucius were

Preparing for the Coming Faithquake


both born in China, and so their teachings went west against the flow of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. The slow spread of regional faiths on foot and primitive forms of transportation allowed large areas to become associated with one belief or another, a geographical religious predominance which has lasted until the present. When differing faiths encountered each other, there was usually either conversion or persecution. This often required near de-humanization of minority non-believers, be they Inca, Jew, Mormon, or Moonie. Western faiths especially have problems with synthesis; fundamentalist Muslims vie with born-again Christians in “us-versus-them” theologies. In the East, mergers were tolerated, although sometimes uncomfortable. In a primal case of the uninvited dinner guest, the unruly South Indian Dravidic deity Shiva, faced with the encroachment of the grand new gods of the conquering Aryans, just moved in with elegant Brahma and Vishnu, trident, snakes and all. As Christianity slowly worked its way into Europe, Celtic pagan religious feasts were resurfaced as Christian holidays. Grottos such as Lourdes, once dedicated to local female deities, became associated with the Virgin Mary. Animist mountain demons in the Himalayas were converted by Buddhist yogis into heroic “dharmapalas,” “guardians of the Dharma”. The encroaching religion rarely usurped earlier beliefs; more often it absorbed them after converting the ruling classes. Nepal, for instance, was Buddhist until King Jayasthiti Malla decided in the fifteenth century it would be nicer to be Hindu. Traditional Nepali Buddhists stayed put, since the Hindu gods had always been part of Nepali Buddhism, but unable to compete in caste ranking, they have suffered socially to this day. England’s s Henry VIII created the Anglican church as a convenience and nationalized the monasteries for their assets. Mongolia became Buddhist when a Tibetan lama won a religious contest. The gentle Dalai Lama became Pope to a population of rambunctious Mongols. Perhaps the smoothest mass conversion of all occurred in the year 1000 A.D. when the Icelandic Althing, the parliament, met and simply voted in Christianity for the entire island.



In a rare instance of East-West accommodation, the message of Christ may have transformed a romantic North Indian shepherd deity into the divine Krishna. Some Indian historians have noted that the earliest popularization of this long established cult began surprisingly close in time to India’s first historical contact with the Christian missionary-apostle Thomas, about 74 AD. This could help explain why Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, loving God incarnate as teacher, seems to be a South Asian “Sermon on the Mount” inserted into an epic war drama, the Mahabharata, otherwise devoted to impersonal concepts such as dharma and karma. India may have accepted the message but not the messenger. Thomas himself, according to history, was martyred on the banks of the Ganges in that year. Was it Christ’s glory or Paul’s karma? Nobody knows. Tara, who is Ishtar to the Babylonians, and KwanYin to the Chinese, Goddess of Mercy, is derived from the male “Buddha of Compassion”, Avelokitishvara (Sanskrit “he-who-looks-down-on-all”). She then became the Japanese “Bodhissatva of Compassion”, Kanon, and even the brand name for a Japanese camera. Kwan-Yin is sometimes depicted holding an infant, a recent change based on copies of Christian madonnas introduced along the Chinese coast by Portuguese traders in the sixteenth century. When the East rejected a religion, it was more often in reaction to a foreign culture rather than a foreign theology. “First come the priests,” warned the first King of Nepal, Privthi Narayan Shah, “then come the cannons.” When the shoguns of sixteenth century Japan shut out Christianity, it was part of a total exclusionary policy so complete that all Western technology was banned at the same time. Commodore Perry found Japanese samurai still hacking away at each other with swords in the mid-nineteenth century, hundreds of years after the development of reliable firearms. As a result of this natural tendency to ground in a particular area, each religion in the world today is expressed and experienced through the deepest traditions of a specific regional culture. As we merge into an inevitable world consciousness during the next century, these regional beliefs may become our last links with centuries of tradition. By the 1990’s, given the unsteady world conditions prevailing, it should not

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seem surprising that more people than ever before are discovering both the cultural security and, for many, culturally appropriate answers available through religious belief and practice. There are two sides to this, however. In one sense we are cheered to see the Russian Patriarch again leading his flock in Moscow, the Dalai Lama meeting with leaders in religion and science, and Mother Teresa’s epiphany in the slums of Calcutta. Yet in another slightly more sinister sense this may also represent a sort of spiritual time bomb. There’s room for only so many heavens on one earth. Despite the initial celebration of faith in the universal spirituality of man, it was demonstrated in the second chapter that there are actually only a few major world faiths, they are ultimately mutually exclusive, and despite the chaotic state of affairs nobody seems to be considering a merger yet. One might imagine that religious innovation was constant. In fact, nearly all recent religious innovations have been simply new interpretations of already existing theologies. Mormons, Pentecostals, and Christian Scientists all worship the same Jesus as Roman Catholics; and yet none of these sects existed two hundred years ago. The ecstatic devotion of Lord Chaitanya for Lord Krishna in the fifteenth century originated his egalitarian Hindu sect, known to the West as the “Hare Krishnas”, while the Indian mystic Ramakrishna established an international following behind Swami Vivekananda in Victorian Calcutta. Still, from pop guru Deepak Chopra to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, they all promote basically the same Hindu philosophy. In nineteenth century Germany, both Zionism and Reform Judaism were born. In twentieth century Japan, the small Nichiren Shoshu, a small Buddhist sect centering around chanting the name of the Lotus Sutra, acquired a lay auxiliary. The Soka Gakkai preached material success and practiced politics until scandals separated the priesthood from their promoters leaving ten million chanters with only their scriptures for a lineage. There has been no shortage of creative sectarianism among the major powers, but entire areas are still gathered by religion into geographical cultural systems that can’t run their neighbors spiritual



software. All recent attempts at creative rather than exclusive interfaces have crashed, sometimes creating even further conflicts than had previously existed. As immigration and travel increase, the physical boundaries between cultures become more porous and permeable, but the cultural boundaries enforced by faith usually remain. One can travel to American and become Christian or to India and become Buddhist, but there is no religion that doesn’t call a particular continent “home”. Like the geological pressures at the edge of a fault, world religious pressure is building to new intensities. Geologists tell us that the continents are floating on massive granite plates that slowly grind up against each other. The study of this phenomena, plate tectonics, suggests most earthquakes and volcanic activity result from pressures generated at the boundaries of these plates. The “faith tectonics” of regional religions is already beginning to cause shocks and eruptions all along the cultural fault lines. A growing worldwide shift back to stronger religious belief, especially as a force to promote national unity, might have been helpful fifty years ago. Unfortunately, the time has long passed for promotion of any God who loves anyone especially. We are facing more than a global cultural shift; we may be facing a basic paradigm shift as dramatic as the notion that unbelievers can be saints. If anything can relieve the massive cultural stresses based on our differing dogmas the resulting “faithquakes” would be a global phenomena.

End Times or New Beginnings?
With world consciousness moving from local to global concerns, typified by international ecological concerns and multiple refugee aid organizations, there simply may not be enough plasticity in the regionalism of traditional religions. Returning to the metaphor of “faith tectonics”, the result would be spiritual mergers resulting ultimately in completely new traditions based on global understanding than local traditions. Rather than avoiding science, it seems probable that any new religious philosophies will embrace

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technology as a tool for discovery and compassion rather than simply the cutting edge for business or for war. It is a shame that nothing resembling a global faith has sprung up anywhere recently, given the current circumstances. With satellite, phone, and fax, our global net is already beginning to shrink us into an interconnected people separated only incidentally by geography and culture. Peoples and practices are blending as never before. All over the world it is happening. The global impact of technology creates a common dialect for commerce and communication, and with it generates and passes along intercultural concepts that could not have been understood or even imagined before we started talking to each other. The language of the digital age is beginning to energize billions of interconnected communications circuits into an interactive web. It has happened before. The rapid spread of early Christianity was due largely to the existence of sophisticated Greek communities in cities lining the perimeter of the Mediterranean Sea. The Roman empire, nearly at its historic height, interconnected the entire Greco-Roman world in a common law and language. The message of Jesus, carried from city to city by the journeys of Paul and the early apostles, found a receptive audience among Hellenic Romans and Greeks adrift without a religion that made any sense and too many philosophies that did. If there were ever a time similar to the Roman empire at the birth of the Christian era when a faith could travel almost everywhere that counted in a short time, we have nearly identical conditions now with our interlinked global communications networks. In our current scenario the globe becomes the Mediterranean, and the plight of the early preChristians is at hand. They had all the Greek religions and the Roman religions and some Egyptian cults on the side. Those disliking the devotional ceremonies of the Mithraic mysteries often found doctrinaire Stoics a bit too Zen. Intellectuals rarely believed in Zeus but criticized the Epicureans as “be here now” utopians of doubtful patriotism. To many Greeks, Judaism was appealing, but circumcision was appalling. Still,



many were attracted to its monotheism, domestic values, and sense of social justice. The messianic promise of Christianity, combined with the full richness of its Jewish heritage, was different and exciting. Once St. Paul pioneered baptism without circumcision - a crucial turning point in the faith - the Christian message spread from one Greek community to another life wildfire. Every book in the New Testament was written in Greek, the common scientific and philosophical language of the Roman empire. Jesus, who spoke Aramaic, could never have read the Gospels. His message was, surprisingly, more relevant to a people he had never known than to his Jewish co-religionists. The time was right; society was ripe for a change; and in less than a hundred years the Gospel had spread everywhere Latin or Greek was spoken. In only three hundred years Christianity was the religion of the Western world. In a similar vein the present world provides us with more than a dozen major world faiths, each with scores of legitimate variations, not to mention general philosophical schools, cultural traditions, and regional cults led by local charismatics from swamis to Swaggarts. There is no end to the choices available these days, from the God of Abraham to the Gods of Zoroaster. There is one vast difference, however, and it is in the power that organized religion actually holds in modern secular society. One of the more useful results of the intercultural blending among the nations of the world is an agreement on rule by law rather than by dictate. Since human law is traditionally enforced by secular authority, in the twentieth century traditional values are increasingly promoted by civil, rather than religious, agencies from the Red Cross to the Girl Scouts. Ironically, the most brutal behavior seems to originate with those claiming to be guided by some fundamentalist religious source. The last decade of the twentieth century has been, in this respect, rather grim. In the past dozen years we have watched fundamentalist Muslims in Iran kill Bahais, fundamentalist Hindus in Bombay kill Muslims, Buddhist Sri Lankans kill Hindu Tamils, Communist Cambodians kill Buddhist Cambodians, Christian Americans kill Iraqi Muslims; and God or Allah or Jehovah is behind all

Preparing for the Coming Faithquake


this? Not bloody likely. “We must never forget”, wrote Reinhold Neibuhr, “the depth of evil to which individuals and communities may sink, particularly when they try to play the role of God in history.” Still, try to convince a fundamentalist of any major faith that an unbeliever may also go to heaven, and some holy quote will be produced proving otherwise. There is only so much flexibility available if one has to ground, ultimately, in religious dogma. In 1991, at the World Council of Churches meeting in Canberra, Australia, a Greek Orthodox prelate protested that Korean feminist theologian Chung Hyun-Kyung’s depiction of Kwan-yin as an image of the Holy Spirit had gone too far. An invocation that included elements of native American appeals to the forces of nature was similarly criticized as being nearly pagan. As our world culture grows, it is increasingly difficult to be a religious purist, and in response the purists insist even more upon getting back to fundamentals. This is, in essence, the basis of the underlying problem. All attempts at world ecumenism have been unsuccessful from the start because they always started from the basis of one major world faith or another. A broad minded Buddhist cannot really be a Christian any more than a sincere Muslim could embrace Judaism. A religious person has to be a this or a that. Less religious individuals have an even greater problem. To define one’s self as agnostic or atheist seems to express an active nihilism that few actually feel. Indeed, many of those who are lukewarm about their faith would enjoy a deeper devotion, but do not know how to find it without submerging their intellect in the passivity of dogma and ritual.

A Scientific Approach?
The challenge facing emerging world theologies is that they cannot be in opposition to any other. They must come from an entirely new perspective. It would be impossible for any novel belief system to supplant or absorb any current world faith. There are simply too many of the faithful. There could arise, however, higher order philosophies based on generally accepted knowledge, knowledge not available in the



past. Such revelation would not require a holy book of rules and religious history, nor would it incorporate social philosophies set down by a teacher and his followers in ancient times. If the basic premises were accepted as culturally transparent, without any regional bias, they need not conflict with religious faith. Science, in terms of a power that most of us respect without question, is already the most powerful religion on the planet today. Could we use scientific method, in this case neurological insight, to provide answers as unequivocal as religions do, reinforce a comprehensive philosophy of life, justify a moral code, and suggest inspirational practices for personal self-improvement? Neither Jesus nor Moses nor Mohammed ever said that we couldn’t use a common language to bridge the divisions that make humans act worse than any animals on the planet. In fact, there is no book of any prophet or any Savior where they don’t tell us to do everything in our power to get along with each other, and modern science is one of those things most of us agree about. This is the possibility which seems to have passed unnoticed. Since all major religions are adaptable, they must be somewhat pliable. Nearly all religious dogma is based on interpretations of statements or writings general enough to transcend culture. New interpretations are never unthinkable. To introduce a useful metaphor, just as pressure at the earth’s core can make solid rock flow like plastic, so contemporary social pressures might become intense enough to force new adaptations and interpretations of the most traditional and stratified mainstream faiths. Like continental plates meeting and creating new land masses, if common grounds were discovered, we would have a new basis for universal friendship and understanding among peoples. The universal language of science may be Greek to many, but like the original Greek of the New Testament, it may be the only language we can all read and understand at the same time wherever we are. If we could find a basis for a shared metaphysics through a shared confidence in legitimate science, we might finally learn to appreciate our global religions for what they are: poetic wisdom from our personal ancestors who needed neither positron emission tomagraphs or scanning electron microscopes to perceive

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the underlying wisdom of human existence. Wisdom is found in the universals, not the details, and a universal human metaphysics could be possible only if the details have no cultural basis or bias at all. If science is to be the shared language of the twenty first century, it follows that any religion that expects to survive into the next millenium will have to either rephrase some dogma or retire to the levels of Wiccans. Smart people ultimately rule the world and if the smart religious people start agreeing about science, world faiths will either find a way to share or shut their doors in fundamentalist xenophobia. Any form of world harmony can take place only if enough people from different nations are interconnected with each other in some meaningful way. Fortunately, this is already happening along the rapidly proliferating international information highways. Just as the neuronal networks in the human brain eventually become dense enough to create a coherent sense of self, when will the human to human density pass a point at which we begin to awaken to the beginnings of a common identity, a dynamic human consciousness arising from our growing interconnective density of minds? The steady decrease in the cost of information transfer guarantees that vastly larger numbers of people will soon be sharing whole aspects of their personal, professional, or even spiritual lives; chatting, buying, selling, sharing, more of the same files, GIFs, MPEGS, affinity networks, breaking ideas, news services, technologies, and of course, entertainment, than ever before. Between inexpensive information storage and cheap global transmission by satellite, Internet and World Wide Web, hundreds of thousands of the world’s best minds are starting to share the same world all over the world. With science, commerce, and technology already largely expressed and

understood through a common world language, our world is heading for a new concept of human unity, one which it really cannot avoid.

Cyber Selfhood and The New World Order



Each of us has an inner reality which we know all too well as well as an innumerable number of social personae with which we face the world and its experiences. The person we expose to our intimates is not always the person we are to the shopkeeper. Our spouse and our doctor experience different versions of who we thiink we are. Most of this social interaction is, in turn, moderated and influenced by archetypes or models provided by our culture or media. In a sense, when we communicate with others we constantly modify the projection of our actual inner selves through a mix of sympathetic sharing and mutually accepted models of appearance and behavior. Until very recently, it has always been assumed that we would share more of these points of similarity with those from our local, or at least national neighborhood. In the last few years, however, the growing availability of computers throughout the world along with the concurrent growth of the Internet and World Wide Web have created a new form of sharing that was never available before. Millions of individuals from all over the world are discovering others who share the personal interests, tastes, and philosophies and they are discovering them all over the world. We are witnessing the beginnings of cyber-selfhood, the global interconnection with other minds like our own in networks that exist beyond the normal bounds of social culture or even statehood but resonate with our inner sense of self. The trend has just recently appeared but it will grow until it has both unpredictable and beneficial effects for all of us on this earth. The implications of the growth of this cyberselfhood on world culture are ominous. To the extent that poultry farmers in Missouri, Tehran, Seoul, and Brisbane all share a common interest in chickens, the more they communicate on the web, the more they will see their cyber-friends as part of a friendship circle more personal than local neighbors with entirely different concerns. They will also discover that many cultural biases simply get in the way, while cultural delights are there to share with their international friends. We will learn that we can not only define ourselves but our cultures more clearly in the midst of friendly others.

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To be sure, there are inherent problems with opening up to individuals who may not always have our best interests in mind, but friendship is not marred by caution. The stories we have heard about romances and heartbreaks on the Internet are reminders that there will still be cyber-insincerity to cloud the attempts of /those who are excited and enlivened by the concept of friends from all over. Still, as most people really are not out to hurt or to harm, the numbers alone point to a time not far off when each of us can count on numbering among our best friends individuals we have never seen or met in person, but who share some of our deepest concerns, ideas, and hopes. If this happens, it will not only tend to link peoples from differing cultures and countries together as never before, it will have an even more impressive effect on the lives of the very individuals who reach out to their cyber-similars. This does not suggest that we will become rude to our neighbors or wedded to our computers, just that we may begin to think of people all over the globe as personal friends. In the universal search for our souls, our spiritual centers, or our own mental clarity, our entrance to the path is always conditional on relinquishing the specifics of personal ego in service of that higher goal. This will be reinforced as we discover personal support among those who may live far from our homes, in entirely different worlds.. Still, with our isolated idiosyncratic minds we could never have known we were so alike to others so far away until we could meet and share so much over the new superhighways. As millions of people begin to enjoy the relaxation of boundaries that friendship allows, the more we will begin to resonate to the currents and concepts which we all share, the universal questions of human dignity, behavior, and survival. As we

begin to interconnect our minds in a spirit of sharing and cooperation, we may begin to awaken en masse as each of us adds another neural node of consciousness along the networks of digital time and space connecting us together. If we connect enough of us together, we will find all the answers we need. We have that common language, we have a way to communicate and plenty of reason to, how can we avoid awakening to a new sense of our shared humanity? All the great monuments to the alliance of



technology and the human spirit from the cathedrals of medieval France to the Saturn 5 moon rocket resulted from unprecedented cooperation between specialists. Likewise it is the massive interconnection of individual minds through the communications technologies of the next decade which may take us to the greatest levels of human achievement we have ever seen. We cannot even imagine what we may

accomplish then because when large numbers of us work together in the furtherance of some greater goal, the unexpected always occurs. It shows itself in the genius of the Taj Mahal, the space shuttle, and the eradication of smallpox. If there is ever evidence of a higher power at work that guides us to a better destiny, it is when we get together in the name of something better than personal gratification. In that common cooperation we emerge from our virtual islands of the mind and accept our higher guidance and goodness whether we call it the will of God or the collective soul of mankind. As this begins to happen more and more on a worldwide level it will be hard to justify hard feelings or hard boundaries, and how could we make war on our friends all over? It seems a better world may be simply inevitable, along with a shared sense of humanity that we cannot yet even imagine. Technology will make it possible, but it cannot make it work. That will be up to us, and up to our leaders, both national and spiritual. Together we will do it, and sooner than we think. The Church never had a problem with the law of gravity, and as our world contracts, we will find our truths in a language we can all speak. Science was never the competition. It’s simply one more in a long line of explanations, but it’s the best one we have this time around. Even a single moment of insight, of seeing things from another perspective, can make all the difference. It doesn’t take very long to read this book, for instance, but the chances are it made you think. If enough people really thought about things, it could make all difference in the world. Does natural law exist by the will of God? Is there an ultimate reality that centers us universally and personally, that pertains to our enemy just as it does to us, that sets the limits of our existence in a manner

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we can intuit, for reasons which seem just? Is there a reason to be good? More to the point, is there any way we can find that point of reference that will allow us to answer these questions without offending either the rational or the faithful? This is still the challenge facing the world poised at the new millennium. Will it be a new cycle, or the old run-around? The answer to that one, like all the others, comes directly from mindful observation. From what we can perceive, the process is already underway.