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Does the Breakdown of the Brain Mean the Loss of Personality?
Chris: Most people believe that the breakdown of the physical brain is the breakdown of the person. Having watched my mother suffer Alzheimer’s, this is very real to me. It is also a very real situation for most other people. What do you feel about that?
Tony: The more we explore these questions, the more frequently I come back to this statement or recognition that everything around us is paradoxical. I believe that we fail to understand the nature of the universe unless we recognise its fundamental condition of being paradoxical.
I believe this also applies to what we see in terms of the link between the mind, the personality and body.
One way of looking at this situation is to use the analogy of a television set. Supposing some of the fine circuitry in a television becomes slightly damaged. For us looking at the television we would see a distorted image. Perhaps the sound quality would not be as good. Maybe the image flickers or is distorted in one way or another. To understand what is happening we might first believe that the signal being transmitted is at fault. That is, of course, a possibility. But if we ruled that out, then we would believe that there was some problem within the physical structure of the TV.
As you can see, this is quite an interesting example of the way we might look at a person who has suffered some form of brain injury or illness. Does their inability to express in the way we were used to mean that they as a person — their signal — is at fault? Or does it mean that there is simply a brain injury, meaning they cannot express themselves as fully as they did in the past?
What many of us tend to do is to believe that the brain and the personality are one and the same. From this point of view the physical damage or illness means loss of personality because we believe there is no separation between the two.It is interesting, because we have just been discussing quantum physics, to also see this in what might be a quantum viewpoint. If we do that we can say that condition one, and condition two, both exist at the same time. This brings us back to the paradox mentioned at the beginning. It does and doesn’t mean the loss of personality.
After I experienced a severe stroke, leaving me without speech and was paralysed on my right side, slowly I gained further insight into what I was experiencing. I noticed that I could read and understand the notices on the hospital ward walls. Also I knew what I wanted to express, but the mechanism of expression was now broken. So when I did try to find the words it was like looking into a vast empty space and reaching into it without success. When I think about it now, we all reach into the immense empty space of the mind and memory when we try to speak, but if you observe what occurs the words drop right into your mouth. But in my experience of stroke there were no words coming. The delivery system was broken – or as Jill Bolte Taylor says, ‘You are not a dummy, you are wounded.’
In that wonderful state of mind I looked at the faces of my family and friends and ‘read’ what they felt with extraordinary awareness. I could see and respond to the deep panic they felt at the thought that I might be dying; I could see the sureness and love in the face of death, the strange struggle between loving and holding back, and the tender presence they felt – but I could not respond. So I observed that the brain is simply a mechanism enabling a link with me and the functions of the body. See:My Experience of Stroke.
Earlier I mentioned that Sir Auckland Geddes said that from his observation while he was dying, the brain was in the mind, not the mind in the brain. I believe what he was suggesting is that the mind does not have a physical location in the same way that the brain does. It is akin to the relationship between a radio set and the radio signals that are transmitted and picked up by the set. The set has a location in time and space. The transmitted radio waves do not have the same sort of small location.
My own sense of this is that the source of our personal awareness exists throughout time and space in the way that we can barely understand. But I am not suggesting at all that our waking awareness shares this condition. What we call self, our sense of self, is just a small part of the transmission that is really our total mind or being. So, of course brain damage depletes or even destroys that self most of us know. However, from the point of view I am explaining, that is just the signal, or part of the signal, that is being distorted or lost. The signal itself remains. I was still there even though my brain was severely damaged.
What our culture hasn’t yet done is to find what that signal is. In other words we haven’t yet really found out what consciousness is.
Earlier I was saying that what survives is the spirit. Well, scientifically we cannot yet identify something that records the experiences of human life and survives physical death. That isn’t to say it doesn’t exist. Science is shifting its boundaries all the time. So all we have is personal experience, and this is given us by people who have experienced the fundamental core of their mind or consciousness. This lies underneath or outside of thinking and feelings. The nearest I can personally describe it is in what was said about the mirror and the images we see in it. The images are the passing impressions of thoughts and emotions. The mirror is consciousness itself in which all the thoughts, sensations and feelings take place. We mistake the thoughts and feelings for our real self. Therefore we feel certain that we die when the body ends.
As an example of this, I remind you of what was said about Grof’s experience when the dead Ladislav gave his name, telephone number and home address to one of Grof’s patients, in order to tell his mother that he had survived death and was okay. (See: mention of Ladislav.)
Chris: You feel certain then, that the mind has an independent existence?
Tony: Yes. And I believe we can see examples of this in other ways than thinking of Grof’s communication with the dead. It has happened to me a number of times to have an awareness of things that related in no way to information in my brain. In such cases I believe that areas of our mind that we call the unconscious, reach out beyond anything our physical senses tell us, and gather information, or know through means of unity with other minds, things that we have no knowledge of through our body. This suggests that mind, while operating through the body, also has an independent life beyond it.
The experiences of my stroke has confirmed my sense of the way I saw the mind or ones identity. When I could manage to speak, I would say to friends and family, ‘I am still here, but my mechanism of expression is broken.’ I felt completely whole within myself, but was aware there were things that were now damaged and could be re-built. So it seems to me that the brain damage did not damage ME, but my ability to function well through my body. So again I see that what people feel is the real the – the brain – is simple a mechanism for physical expression. Ones consciousness of existing can stand apart from the brain.
My most impressive experience of this was during my first marriage. One morning Brenda woke and told me she had dreamt about the baby of two of our friends. The friends, who I will call Jane and Bob, were living about 200 miles from us. We knew Jane was pregnant, and about a week or so before the dream we had received a short letter saying their baby, a boy, had been born. We were not on the telephone at the time, so the letter was our only means of communication.
In the dream Brenda saw the baby and a voice from behind her told her the child was ill. Its illness, she was given to understand, was serious, and would need to be treated with a drug taken every day of the child’s life. The reason for this illness and the drug use, she was told, was because in a past life the person now born as the baby had committed suicide using a drug.
I didn’t take the dream seriously, thinking it was some sort of personally symbolic dream. But we couldn’t seem to extract any personal meaning for Brenda, so just in case I sent an account of the dream to Jane and Bob. About a week later we had a letter from them saying that the letter and dream had crystallised their already existing anxiety about the baby. It had not been feeding well and was fretful. On taking it to the doctor nothing definite could be found but special tests were made in hospital. From these it was discovered the baby was dying. It lacked an enzyme which was needed to digest calcium. To compensate it was given a drug, which it has had to take every day of its life to make up for the lacking enzyme.
I don’t think there can be any clearer example than that of the mind having some level of separate existence from the brain. See also http://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/dreaming-of-death/#Talking
Having personally witnessed those events they are very real to me. But I do wonder at people who completely deny the possibility of what I have said. I wonder if there is some level of fear attached to it. In many cases there seems to be a complete denial in them, and there is always the suggestion that I, or other people like me, have made up such stories or have completely misinterpreted them in some way. All I know is that the child is still alive. He still takes his drug every day, and I wonder how they explain the fact that my wife stated all that information to me before the parents themselves knew what the problem with their child was.
In all this examination of whether there is awareness existing independently of the body, it is important to remember some fundamental things already said about our own present scientific philosophy. The first thing is that time and space were non-existent prior to the Big Bang. Secondly, Bell’s Theorem points out that sub-atomic particles exist in a way that transcends time and space. Therefore, the fundamental particles of your own body exist beyond any limitations of time, space and the three dimensions we see as ‘reality’. There is no better argument than this for the human spirit – an aspect of our nature that is not limited to time, space and death.
I have explored this more fully in The Brain Mind Split. Also, read Lynne McTaggarts book The Field for the latest researches regarding the fundamental level of existence, and how it absorbs and remembers all experience – in the UK – in the USA.
Chris: The other day I watched a program on the television in which a man was talking about his relationship with the recent Korean air crash. He said that he was a frequent air traveller, but before boarding that plane he heard a voice saying to him not to get on the plane. He said, “Look, I travel all the time. Why should I hear a voice like that? I think somebody was trying to tell me something.” His explanation of it was that he felt there was some sort of guardian or person caring for him. So I feel this is another example of what you are saying.