Chronicles in Ordinary Time 82: The Search for Meaning, Part One

watson's brain2“Watson’s Brain”

I’ve long been fascinated by the human brain and perception…

If Myers-Briggs is accurate, my personality type is INTJ, and is only shared by 2% of the population. 98% of any group perceives the world with a different type of thinking. Consequently, I see things differently than most people; and most people see things differently than I do.

The “mechanics” of vision is such that no two people see a scene in exactly the same way. Light passes through the lenses in our eyes, gets flipped upside down and then is bounced off of light-sensitive cells at the back of our eyeballs to send electro-chemical messages through the optic nerve to our brains. Somehow these electro-chemical signals cause us to see the world as if we were looking through a picture screen at the front of our heads… People with color blindness and disorders like Irlen Syndrome have cells in the retina that don’t work properly; floor the color-blind person colors look differently than the colors I see. For people with Irlen Syndrome, the letters on this screen might look scrambled. I know a guy who has a ‘hole’ in his brain—parts of the brain tissue are missing, for no known reason, and as a result he has no depth perception. Looking through his eyes is the same as you looking at this monitor—my drawings have the illusion of depth, because of the way they are shaded; but they have no real depth. You really aren’t looking at a piece of paper attached to your screen…

I watched “THE BRAIN WITH DAVID EAGLEMAN” on PBS the other night…

Some quotations from the show:

“What makes you You? For a long time the answer was an immortal soul, or spirit; something that goes beyond mere matter and gives you your life and your identity. But the modern story of the brain tells a different story: who we are can only be understood in terms of the 3-pound organ in our heads…what makes humans unique “is the way
that the human brain can mold to fit the world around it.” Our brains come with some basic programming that allows us to learn language and facial expression; “but the remarkable thing is the degree to which our brains are
unfinished. Which leads to a period of prolonged helplessness. But the plan is that instead of hardwiring everything the way most of the animal kingdom
does, our brains are designed to let life experience wire up the rest of the brain…

“The number of brain cells in a child is the same as the number of brain cells in an adult. The secret lies in the how those cells are connected. Over the first two years of
life, the neurons begin connecting extremely rapidly; forming as many as two million new connections every second. By age two, the typical neuron has more
than 15,000 connections. That is almost twice as many as found in an adult. After the age of two, the growth is halted. The process of becoming someone is about pruning back the possibilities that are already present. You become who you are not because of what grows in your brain, but what is removed.

As we grow and learn new skills, we reduce the number of connections in our brain–in favor of focusing on a smaller number of stronger connections…the connections go from being universal to being specific. Those links you don’t’ use, you lose. Over the course of childhood, brain circuitry is wired up according to experience and interaction with the environment. But this dependence on the outside world is a gamble. The outside world won’t always provide what a brain needs…”

Eagleman doesn’t address the italicized text above—the language that speaks of design, as opposed to randomness. Most of the Animal Kingdom enters this world with built-in programming. Who does the programming? If our brains are different in that they are grown in our mother’s womb, with minimal hardwired programming, but with the ability to make connections between sounds, feelings, smells and abstract words, how does that ability come into being?

At the end of the episode, Eagleman points out that no one has figured out what the mechanism is that gives certain connections greater meaning than other connections. What defines Meaning?

I believe that Meaning is connected to that “immortal soul” that Eagleman discounts at the beginning of the episode. An integral part of the human psyche that can’t be measured. I believe that the ‘connections’ we make to the world around us as we grow, can be made in a similar manner to a ‘world’ we cannot see, feel or touch—the world of the Spirit. The association of the world of spiritual belief and the world of physical experience are similar to the concepts of ‘parallel universes’—universes that we cannot perceive, that exist next to our own universe. I believe that some of the connections that are made between the neurons of your brain can be influenced by your Creator…

We can change the way we think.

We can decide that the way we have thought in the past is not getting us to the future we desire, and that today we will begin following a different path.

We have the ability to make new connections between the neurons that register ideas, and that we don’t have to maintain the thought processes from our parents’ belief systems as we move into our teenage years of growing independence. We can make new connections between our ‘stockpile’ of past experiences and sensations, and come to new conclusions. These new conclusions can change our lives.


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