There has a been a quiet brain revolution going on in neuroscience, in the past ten years, one that will change everything we know about spirituality and the brain. While the general public still is mired in the “skeptic vrs believer debate” most prominently promoted by Michael Shermer (http://www.michaelshermer.com/), most people are completely unaware that science has already embraced spirituality. In my opinion, spirituality can no longer be understood unless practitioners and the general public are willing to understand the new spiritual neuroscience. As physician Robert Lanza stated (http://www.robertlanza.com/) in American Scientist in 2007, time, space, and this material reality are simply tools of the brain to allow our conscious self to interact with this reality. He states that the current scientific evidence states that time “reboots” after our brains die (and we then get a new brain to begin a new life). Obviously science and spirituality has moved far beyond the tired “skeptic v believer debate” that seems to still play out in the Wall Street Journal and the major television networks.
THE CASE OF ANGELA RONSON: NOT YOUR FATHER”S NEUROSCIENCE
Angela Ronson suffered a major AVM bleed and stroke with massive injury to her entire brain. She was in a coma, semi-coma, and ultimately the “locked in syndrome” for a total of 7 years. Yet she has made a full neuro-psychiatric recovery, with her personality and memories basically the same as prior to her massive brain injury. She speaks, can use her arms and fingers, and is even starting to walk again!
How is this possible? If we knew for sure, we would also know the answer to the great mystery of the near death experience, which is: how can patients with near death experiences have any memories or experiences at all! After all, their brains are dying or let’s face it, actually dead for a brief period of time. If Robert Lanza is correct, then consciousness comes first, and somehow being brushed with the divine and the universal knowledge of cosmic consciousness (or the Mind of the All) permits the brain to rewire and heal itself.
When I went to medical school, I was taught that the brain creates consciousness. Our personality and memories were thought to be entirely dependent on brain activity. Furthermore, the brain was thought to not be able to regenerate new brain cells or heal itself in any ways. We are ominously warned to never drink alcohol (which I don’t) as each glass of beer could kill off hundreds of brain cells that could never be replaced.
Then I took an elective with the great Dr. Montcastle who was removing half a patient’s brain in an operation that took a few hours. He did this as a last resort to attempt to cure intractable seizures. I asked him, “well, what about their personalities, their ability to walk, to talk? Aren’t brain functions localized to specific areas of the brain?” He laughed merrily and told me not to believe everything I learned in medical school. Remember, he reminded me, “half of what you know isn’t true, but unfortunately we don’t know which half is wrong!”. Dr. Montcastle was one of a now departed breed of Neurosurgeons who seemingly gleefully removed huge areas of the brain in an effort to cure it, in defiance of what Neurology textbooks claimed was true. He would cheerfully laugh “hell, boy (that was me) what the F*&k do they (Neurologists) know?”.
Dr. Montcastle was correct. As a medical student I took care of many patients who had an entire half of their brain removed. They had the same personality, the same memories, and really lost very little function or skills from their pre-operative selves. For the most part, you could only tell that they had half their brain removed by administering sophisticated neuro-psychiatric tests. Anyone could spend a day with them and be unaware they had had half their brain removed. Perhaps they walked with a slight limp. Yet this operation took only a few hours, and astonishingly, somehow it had very little effect on them.
I later did an elective at the Solomon Snyder Department of Neuroscience, where much of modern functional neurogenesis was discovered. Functional neurogenesis means that new brain cells grow deep within an area of the brain called the hippocampus, and then migrate to specific areas of the brain where they are needed. These new brain cells then permit new functions or repair damaged functions in the brain.
I vividly remember one of the Professors telling us how disorienting and even scary this concept that the brain can change itself, was to him. He said that under the old model, we had every reason to believe that our personality, beliefs, and memories would remain stable, as long as the brain remained stable. But now, he said “we are discovering that thinking and experience can actually change the brain! How unsettling. It seems to invite chaos into our personalities, emotions, memories and our sense of self.” As Jason Snyder PhD stated:http://www.functionalneurogenesis.com/blog/about-functional-neurogenesis/jason-snyder/ “what would the general public think if they knew that all human experience is capable of changing the brain?”.
Dead brains having complex near death experiences and perceptions of other realities? Human experience and thoughts alone actually changing the brain? New brain cells mysteriously growing deep within the brain and knowing where to migrate to heal the brain? And what about Angela Ronson? Her entire brain wiped out by a stroke, and seven years later she regains consciousness and has her same personality and memories? And why does her hair grow so fast, and what could that have to do with it? What about researcher Bradley Voytek (http://darb.ketyov.com/) who titles papers “Cognitive Processes and their effect on Prefrontal Damage”. He means THINKING is healing the brain. But wait a doggone minute. I thought the brain caused us to think, how can thinking heal the brain? Yaaaaaaaaaaah. This is not the Neuroscience that I was taught at Johns Hopkins.
(To be continued)