Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mind and matter...

"The easy part of that question deals with the brain. Wiggle your toes. Feel them? But where do you feel them? Not in your toes. Toes feel nothing. You feel them in your brain. Anyone who has had the misfortune of having a limb amputated can tell you how the missing limb continues to be felt—in the brain. The brain has within it maps of the body that record every sensation and then project that sensation onto the mental image of the relevant body part. But it certainly feels like I’m feeling my toes in my toes. And it is not just the toes. The entire reality, what we see and what we feel, what we smell and what we hear, is mapped in the brain and then those recorded sensations reach out to our consciousness from within the two-to-four-millimeter (about one-eighth-inch) thin wrinkled gray layer, the cerebral cortex, that rests at the top of each of our brains. There is a reality out there in the world, but what we experience—every touch and every sound, every sight, smell and taste—arises in our heads. All our mental images, fantasy or factual, are built on our life’s experiences and these are totally physically based. Pure abstraction, even in mathematics, is more than difficult. It is impossible. Even numbers and symbols of calculus take on mental forms.

Through the dedicated and precise work of extraordinarily skilled scientists we now know how and where in the brain each of our sensations is processed and stored. That has been mapped to near perfection. And I explore those maps in the coming chapters. The processes are nothing less that mind-boggling.

And then comes the hard part of the hard question: the sound of music. The waves of sound impinge upon my eardrum and in a beautifully complex path become converted to bio electrical pulses that are chemically stored in the cortex of my brain. (We’ll look at that path in detail.) But how do I hear the sound? Up to and including the storage of the data in the brain, it’s all biochemistry. But I don’t hear biochemistry. I hear sound. Where’s the sound generated in my head? Or the vision; or the smell? Where’s the consciousness? Just which of those formerly inert atoms of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and on and on, in my head have become so clever that they can produce a thought or reconstitute an image? How those stored biochemical data points are recalled and replayed into sentience remains an enigmatic mystery.

Organization separates living matter from what we perceive as inert, lifeless matter. But there is no innate physical difference between the atoms before and after they organize, learn to take energy from their surrounding environment, and become, as a group, alive. However there is what appears to be a qualitative transition between the awesome biochemistry by which the brain physically records the incoming data and the conscious ness by which we become aware of that stored information. In that passage from brain to mind we may be looking for a physical link that does not exist."
(The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth
By Gerald L. Schroeder :5-6)


Anonymous said...

Wow, that talks about some pretty amazing concepts!


mynym said...

The brain is quite a maze.