By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH),Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York
If you propose that Truth with a capital T might return into our lives, like a speck on the horizon that gets bigger and bigger, many would prefer to swat the speck away. For one thing, Truth veers uncomfortably close to God. When Stephen Hawking was promoting his most recent book, The Grand Design, he held a press conference that created a headline shot around the world: “Science Makes God Unnecessary.” Hawking’s popular authority gave weight to a common sentiment. Even among scientists who are devoutly religious, nobody claims that God is necessary when it comes to doing science. (This assumes, as many religions do, that God is an external being, in essence an independent force outside the forces that physics study.)
But ruling out an independent, controlling Creator God-in-the-Sky doesn’t keep the speck on the horizon from steadily getting bigger. The speck is consciousness, which will become the basis of Truth with a capital T if human knowledge keeps unfolding as it has been. Science at its core is a mental activity, but scientists traditionally have shown a persistent aversion to discussing the mind, relegating the topic to philosophers and, most recently, to brain researchers, who claim that they are examining what appears to be the physical vessel of mind. Physicists make theories about and measure external reality as such; for them, the “real” begins with the observable and quantifiable universe. Measurable physical quantities exist within space and time, into which are embedded all manner of things, such as elementary particles. They of course hold the view that physical universe won’t evaporate into clouds of fantasy or metaphysics. The constituents of the physical universe don’t depend on what you or I think. But, you might counter, isn’t thinking what consciousness is all about?
There’s a sound reason for why the speck on the horizon showed up in the first place. The universe, like a comic-book superhero, needs an origins story. God once provided the best possible origins story, since an omniscient Creator in the sky could explain not just the beginning of the universe, but good and evil, life after death, reward and punishment, and why sex causes problems. For modern science, an origins story isn’t remotely so thorough. It is actually just one piece in a jigsaw puzzle. A host of other pieces are already in place, specifically the mathematics that explains electromagnetism and the strong and weak force – three of the four fundamental forces in nature, awaiting only gravity to complete the picture. As these calculations were being refined – a century’s worth of brilliant work – the origins story of the cosmos was jiggered to fit.
So far, consciousness still remains out of the picture of a physical universe, which most scientists are willing to consider. The evidence for the Big Bang (as a theory to how the universe began) is overwhelming, and even though we don’t have good evidence regarding the exact instant of the expansion, its beginning – currently held to be 13.7 billion years ago – set the cosmic clock ticking. There’s your origins story, an unimaginable explosion of space-time, in Einstein’s general relativity, that started the mighty expansion that created all matter and energy. In any case, modern cosmology, a branch of physics, has been triumphant in telling the story of creation, so with a little patience researchers using billion-dollar machines will accumulate more data like the highly publicized proof of the Higgs boson, or “God particle,” hoping that, then, the picture will be complete. But this begs the question of what came before the Big Bang – a topic, like consciousness, that most scientists relegate to being inappropriate for study by others than philosophers. But shouldn’t scientists themselves be intensely curious to find out what happened before time and space began?
For some far-seeing thinkers, however, this is a “not so fast” moment. What does it mean to complete our picture of the universe? Are we simply missing a few pieces of a largely completed jigsaw puzzle? Have we reached the end of science where everything but a couple of nagging questions remain? Or have we actually failed to account for a vast and significant piece of the universe – consciousness – because the topic wasn’t placed on the scientific “to do” list? Perhaps their difficulty arises because consciousness and “what came before the Big Bang” might be related subjects.
Working physicists, including some of the most eminent, believe that they are merely completing a very complex jigsaw puzzle, although most acknowledge that our theories are also incomplete and need more creativity. But that won’t really suffice: the universe will be radically incomplete if that big unexplained chunk – the mind – is left out, along with the vast array of inner experiences – love, joy, hope, sorrow – that comes with the mind. The subjective world is where our lives are actually lived. To exclude it in favor of only objective data gather through the senses, is like collecting every message ever sent over the telegraph without knowing Morse code. You will have a complete set of dots and dashes, but the meaning of the messages hasn’t even been touched. Likewise, our scientific theories are radically incomplete.
Especially among the younger generation of scientists, the questions left to answer aren’t just a mopping-up operation. Far from it. This next generation is more are willing to confront the kind of incompleteness that potentially can alter the course of science itself. They are likely to not just continue doing the same things over and over again, just to remain in the comfort zone of “acceptable” science. This can happen once we begin viewing consciousness as a fundamental aspect of existence, not a byproduct. Consciousness seems to be the simplest starting point for a science that could be complete. If consciousness is inseparable from existence, then so are the qualities of consciousness. The universe exhibited creativity, intelligence, evolution, and sentience, not because God breathed these qualities into Adam or because prehistoric hominids evolved in time from some far distant past to acquire them. In a very real sense, the universe has always been “thinking.” Mind didn’t begin with the arrival of the human brain or the brains of the most ancient species that roamed the earth. (The reason to favor the simplest explanation is that otherwise, if one ponders the question of origins of the mind, one gets into convoluted logical dead ends. We smile at the medieval controversy over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, because it so obviously defies logic and in fact it seems comic. Future generations will surely smile at our insistence that neurochemicals in the brain create thought.)
Humans have exhausted the old paradigm of science, in which data-collecting and mathematical formulas according to some fixed “laws of Nature” were privileged while everyday experience was too messy to contend with. The new paradigm can’t simply patch up the holes in the old one. It begins instead with a single game-changing premise: the most fundamental fact of existence is our awareness that we exist. Several of the greatest quantum pioneers, including Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and Erwin Schrodinger, were astute enough to foretell the key role of consciousness. To them, it was never irrelevant. It was something science cannot detour around, to paraphrase Planck.
In some sense it’s a paradox that we award Nobel Prizes for eminent discoveries about the early phases of time, space, subatomic particles, weak interactions and “standard particle models” and so on, only to face the possibility that these are all mental constructs, for that is the implication of a fully developed consciousness theory. In place of the quantum field from which matter and energy arise, our spiritual traditions – through deep, persistent training of the mind to perceive the world in far greater detail and depth than is our habit – reveal a field of consciousness from which everything arises. The speck on the horizon is about to fill the whole sky.
The assumption by neuroscience that the brain creates the mind is seductive but has far less basis in actual proof. Yes, damage to specific brain circuits can cause people to not recognize faces or even go into a coma, but nevertheless no fMRI or PET scan or lesion study has answered the question of where in the brain does the mind reside. One informative example is a beautiful study from the University of Iowa of a patient named “R” who suffered damage to three brain regions – insular cortex, medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate – due to a viral encephalitis. These regions are critical for human self-awareness in modern neuroscience theory and patients with damage to these areas should essentially become zombies. Yet, despite memory deficits from the lesions, R remained self-aware. Likewise, the notion that the mind exists separate from the brain has no actual hard proof in the laboratory, though, for example, increasingly detailed documentation of near death experiences by clinicians such as Pim van Lommel, a cardiologist in the Netherlands, and Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychologist in the United Kingdom, strongly raise this possibility.
Yet, neuroscience has not revealed the “location” of the mind anywhere in the brain, or for that matter anywhere in the physical body of humans. Mind is simply assumed to be there, for no better reason than that the brain controls the central nervous system. This is like saying that music is located in a radio. There’s no doubt that radios transmit music. If you lived on a planet devoid of music and a radio fell from the sky blasting the 1812 Overture, you could claim that the radio is solely responsible for music. But that’s the very same kind of radical incompleteness that current day neuroscience suffers from. Having no other source for mind, they stick it into a physical object.
Everything we call real is created in our perception. There is no evidence that the world “out there” exists independently of what we perceive. (Even an arch physicalist like Hawking admits that science tells us nothing about reality itself.) The physical brain would have to exist outside space and time to “see” its own origins. Only consciousness qualifies as Point Zero, the origin of all experience. It doesn’t need time and space. It doesn’t need the laws that govern matter and energy. Consciousness, as opposed to pure awareness, only needs an object, that object can only be itself. In a word, to find out the truth about the universe and the life that flourishes on our plant, only an absolute – truth with a capital T – answers everything we want answered.
(To be cont.)
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium – August 16-18, 2013 at La Costa Resort and Spa.
Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)
P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)
Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com