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Chapter 14: Causal Relations between Brain and Consciousness

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14 Causal Relations between Brain and Consciousness

The third question, phrased in chapter 2, was: Is there a casual relation between consciousness and the composition of material structures resulting in complexity? And if so, is the relation of cause and effect unilateral or reciprocal?

a.       The brain as cause of conscious experience

The number of synaptic connections in the brain runs into trillions, and is said to be vaster than the number of stars in the universe. Moreover the connections are continuously changing, adjusting. The brain is indeed complex. Human consciousness is also complex, and it has been made neurologically plausible that at least for every facet of consciousness we experience in our physical existence, there is a related and localized activity inside the brain. Damages done to the brain, either due to a sudden mishap, such as hemorrhage or accident, can give rise to physical as well as psychological impediments: paralysis as well as loss of memory and numerous other physical and psychological consequences. These impediments are very much localized in the brain. Damage to a particular site in the brain may have a very different result than damage to a nearby site.

From studies in hallucinations such as done by Oliver Sachsi1 it has become clear that the activity of one or a few brain cells may give rise to specific hallucinations. Also normal, non-hallucinogenic perceptions have been found in some cases, as appears on basis of research on monkeys, recognizing a picture of another monkey, to trigger the activity of just one specific brain cell. Hallucinations are also independent of the general mental ‘saneness’ of a person. Hallucinations can be induced by drugs, but very commonly occur spontaneously, and can take the form of any of the senses. They may be as clear as reality, and are often regarded as completely real by the people who experience them. They may have simple, geometrical forms, but also show complete living beings, humans who one has never seen, with facial expressions not normally belonging to them, animals, etc. They occur especially in people in who one of the senses has been suppressed, as in the case of blindness, deafness and loss of the faculty of smell. The brain itself seems to produce them. They may be derived from a combination of stored memories and unselfconscious interpretation. Hallucinations are not threatening by themselves, and often experienced as pleasant or neutral, but of course when one has a bend of mind to see them as actual and active powers, they may invoke fear and paranoia.

Hallucinations are different from what is experienced during NDE. Because in the last case the things seen are objectively true, like seeing one’s own body laying on an operation table. Also, impaired physical faculties, such as blindness, may be replaced by full seeing – even in people who have been blind since birth. Then actual sense organs of the liṅga śarīra are performing this task.

So it seems that hallucinations are not objectively real – they are productions of the brain. Sometimes hallucinations are mixed with astral visions of really existing elemental beings, as may occur in some hallucinogenic drug experiences. These then, are not a production of the brain alone. There is then a slight opening up of the personal consciousness in some of the lowest astral realms. It also depends on the type of drug taken which part of the lower astral worlds are entered. Some are very negative, gloomy and fear-evoking, others are neutral or even make it possible for the experiencer to gain some insights and wisdom. Even scientific ideas with important consequences have arisen in individuals taking drugs. Drugs like Cannabis may temporarily calm parts of our mind so that we become aware of obstacles to clarity which have become ingrained in our psychology, like mental habits and conventions and even make them look ridiculous, and as a result cause us to see through these illusions – thus some insight in a deeper psychological reality may be gained. When the person is stable and watchful by nature, it may show him more sane pursuits of life than he followed before. Or it leads to confusion, insecurity, dullness and lethargy. Often drugs experiences are very happy because of their intensity, calmness and a feeling of wisdom. This of course can lead to the wish to repeat, to habituation, negligence of duties, indifference to conventional attachments and addiction. It is artifical, and they can give us no more wisdom than we inherently have. We are far ahead of plants and minerals in our evolution, and beyond them, so they can never teach us anything new. This path, if ever taken, should soon be abandoned.

There is a wide spectrum of drugs that influence the brain in such a way that altered states of consciousness occur, and this in a broad variety as to the sense organs which are intensified as well as moods that are experienced. They induce changes or aberrations in form, color or sound hallucinations, there can be euphoria, or, on the other hand, fear, claustrophobia, etc. etc. Even a cup of coffee can influence our mood and awareness considerably. In general the taking of hallucinogenic drugs may however be a dangerous experiment, because unnatural, while with some drugs a possibility of lasting brain damage exists, and some may lead to psychological confusion and depression in the minds over longer periods for those who can not handle and understand what happens to them.

The positive influence that some drugs sometimes have is rather a temporarily calming or a lowering of the activity of some parts of the brain, thus calming the busy business of the mind and bringing about a state comparative to a lower meditative state, than that it is an actual ‘gift’ or ‘teaching’ by the drug or the ‘soul’ of the plant, mushroom or whatever. It may be that the specific jīva of a plant leaves an imprint that gives a natural drug its specific character or mood. Specific chemical and astral modifications in the brain bring about a different state of awareness compared to the ‘clean’ state. Structures within reality which are normally overshouted may now rise to awareness. Also, archetypal recognitions may be enhanced; that means a few unconnected lines or figures may be interpreted by the brain as recognizable pattern, and one may suddenly see an elephant in the trees, or a Buddha head in a piece of rock. These are constructions of the (distorted) brain, not actual, objective astral impressions. Some of the worst drugs may bring about a co-vibration with the lowest astral realms which always consist of evil forms, deceptions, sensualities and emotions only. These lead the user to the gully and deprived states – such people we see daily along the streets of our cities.

Altogether even the most exciting hallucinogenic drugs tell us hardly anything about what consciousness really is but still lure us astray in a believe that real spirits are involved. They are not spirits though, at most mindless astral beings expressing themselves in awesome beauty and an illusion of intelligence – at the most they can make us clear that conventional ‘reality’ as we had always seen it is a very relative thing.

Also particular parts of the brain may become excited and experience enhanced awareness in particular fields, including in some limited sectors of the lowest parts of the astral world. In all cases it is the field of kāma, the realm of personal desire related to the physcial senses.

With some types of drugs the astral brain seems to be pushed slightly out of the physical brain, giving rise to partial or near out-of-the body experiences. In extreme cases one cannot return into one’s own brain, and then leads to lasting madness. Though interesting for some curious young people, it does not lead to lasting profit and wisdom, and if ever indulged in should be abandoned as soon as possible.

Apparently the brain with its power to retrieve stored information that is physiologically present in the body combined with the natural tendency of the conscious entity who uses that brain to interpret impressions into things that make sense, creates its own images in relation to those parts of it which are used for processing the data of one of the senses.

This power of interpretation exists in the smallest children. Draw two circles above each other and let two sticks from the lower circle point out sideward and two at the bottom downward, and the child will immediately recognize it as a human being. Stretch the lower circle into an oval and place it horizontally, all four sticks pointing downward, and you have a dog. All cartoons are based on this simple natural faculty of the brain to recognize such archetypal elements in the consciousness. Highly developed people, such as Einstein, can do the same with complex mathematical formulas; occultists can instantly transport themselves to vast fields of philosophy by seeing simple symbols.

It is therefore not astonishing that vast numbers of people, including expert scientists, believe that consciousness is a an exclusive function of the brain, and more especially the highly developed human brain. They would say that if there would be any sense of consciousness at all in beings like insects and plants, this could at best be at a very primitive level – almost nothing compared to what humans and mammals have. Though some people may think that insects have no consciousness of their own, research on Drosophila (fruit flies) has shown that their nervous activity during periods of rest is akin to sleep. Do they have dreams? It is difficult to know. We can hardly deny it of dogs and cats.

Dreams are, like hallucinations, products of the brain when it is temporarily no longer completely controlled by the egoic will-power of the consciousness. These are the type of dreams almost all people experience on a daily basis during REM sleep – whether they remember it or not. Thus a part of the brain (not necessarily all parts at the same time) restore their physiological balance, i.e. they ‘take rest’. To let hallucination just go and to watch them quietly may also have a very relaxing effect on the brain.

Sometimes dreams (and hallucinations) contain information of a different and more real type. Visions of future events are seen, and later proof to be correct. From – highly exceptional – genuine yoga is known that advanced trainees may receive instructions from their masters during dreams. More people may be able to leave their body during sleep, and report out-of-the-body experiences. These are a different type of experiences. We enter here a realm that is slightly beyond or outside the merely physical and physiological. As said several times before, just as in near-death experiences and after-death experiences, the senses belonging to a phase of matter – sometimes called ‘astral’ which is a little more subtle than physical matter become active. The consciousness itself, which is uninfluenced by the outer circumstances presented to it through the physical or astral senses, does what belongs to its nature: it perceives and interprets. The consciousness has a mind of its own, which however is heavily biased by its in-the-body experiences. But that mind itself is not produced or caused by the physical brain.

The liṅga śarīra’ of Hinduism, or ‘astral double’ is distinct from the sthūla śarīra, the coarse physical body. It exists before one is born, forms in the womb and guides the physical form to take its shape. It is intermediate between the karma of the reincarnating ‘me’ and the information provided by the parents through the DNA of both parents and some extra-nuclear information from the mother. It stays with us for life, works as the model for the child’s physical development, and absorbs the formative impressions (originated in the pursuits of our life, thoughts, desires, emotions). It is also what Rupert Sheldrake has called the ‘morphogenetic field’. It exists for plants and all other physical beings as well. It is usually firmly connected with the physical, but can leave the body occasionally, as in NDE and other out-of-the-body experiences. It collects and then contains all information gathered during life, and at death impresses this information on that part of our being which remains between incarnations. After having done so, rather quickly, it dies also.

The lower parts of the impressions, those related to personal worldly and physical desires, are taken on by invisible beings of a low nature, and may survive for a usually short time – until their energies are exhausted. The human consciousness after death, experiences kāma-loka, but the personal tendencies – not just the impressions – of the levels with which they harmonize, may also become parts of animals or even plants – as almost all religions teach. These tendencies are however not the real ‘me’ or ‘you’ – The real man reincarnates only as a human, nothing else.

The better part of our consciousness though, is too subtle to absorb the coarser impressions. It only absorbs the refined pursuits, such as listening and producing classical music, actions of genuine altruism, philosophy, beauty, idealistic ideas of a higher nature, better wishes unaccomplished. This is what causes for the consciousness the experience called ‘heaven’ in thousands of different ways, as also discussed earlier. There are as many heavens and hells (in the last case of evil impressions of a sufficiently subtle nature, like sadism, jealousy, premeditated sensuality, etc.) as human minds, but sometimes the heavens and hells are categorized into types and layers by various thought systems. Each of the heavens and hells corresponds with tendencies practiced during life. Each of the heavenly or hellish beings has its own vehicle or body of a subtle type of matter. Each is experienced in full consciousness, and has a mind and an awareness of having senses (One can not ‘burn’ physically in hell, but the illusion can be there for the consciousness.) Consciousness is there all the time: whether a physical brain exists, or not.

The consciousness after death is subjective, and even the experiences called hells and heavens are the result of the information gathered by the consciousness by means of the physical brain during incarnation, i.e. life on earth. However, a trained true yogi, or rather an initiate in occult knowledge or ‘the mysteries’, can function self-consciously and by controlled will in these realms.

It has also been established as a viewpoint of many modern psychologists that many traits of consciousness, such as inclination to drug addiction are highly related to a person’s genetic configuration, up to about 50%. It is therefore incorrect to just say that people are ‘weak’ or that ‘it is their own fault’ that they have developed traits of behavior that are usually associated with free choice. The weakness and lack of will power itself is partly defined in the genes, and the last result in physiologically recognizable structures in the brain. A lack of will power in for example addicts can then be compared with a mechanical defect, such as that of a car with deficient brakes. The same applies to inclinations towards criminality and other psychological tendencies. Of course, how this works out is a mixture of ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ and social circumstances, the challenges met in life.

The moral consequences are very important. Outsiders can no longer stigmatize addicts or criminals as ‘weak’ or ‘evil’ people. Addiction and crime can then be looked upon as diseases that are partly genetic, and which can perhaps be cured or curtailed by medication or therapy. Once social stigmatization of these people will have disappeared, pharmaceutical companies can develop medicine or serums for treatment. People who have such diseases can be treated and humiliation of these people by others and by institutions are no longer justifiable (if humiliation would ever be justifiable). Moralists can no longer order them to use their will, because they really do not have it any more.

On the other hand, what is more ‘own’ than one’s will? Will is a part of our soul. It would be quite depressing to have to believe that my will is just a product of chemical definitions and properties about which I have nothing to say and that I can not influence. That would be real fatalism. Like conscious and life, mind and purpose, will is part of my essence, not just a added property like blue or brown eyes. Will is the very energy to accomplish things. We want to have control over our will, and have the power to enlarge it and use it in the right way. It is most frustrating to think, ‘I am just like that, I have a weak will, there is nothing to do about it.’

Then there is the question: if tendencies and ‘weaknesses’ are (partly) genetically defined, how did these genes come there in the first place? Do all these aspects of our consciousness – ourselves – really find their origin in chance mutations only? Then, why have weak wills and bad tendencies not been selected away through time?

DNA defines for amino acids, which are the building stones for proteins. Specific proteins have the specific properties to organize the physical processes during the build-up and growth of our body as well as maintaining it. DNA may contain, for some reason or another, information that defines for proteins that enhance or hamper our possibilities, or it may lack particular definitions that other people have. Also quite a number of psychological tendencies are furthered or hampered by the genetic definition and the resulting structure of the nervous system, especially the brain. Even such tendencies as addiction and weakness and strength of will seem to be genetically influenced. However DNA defines only for the vehicle of the conscious individuality – like the properties of a car sets limits to the potential abilities of a driver. The same driver may have different restrictions and possibilities whether he drives a city mini car or a Ferrari or a bus, truck, van or tractor. The DNA is comparable to the manual for the construction of the car, or our body, but not for the driver. However good the driver, he can not fully express himself in a bad car. At most he can make the best of the situation.

However the question remains: why is it the destiny to be born in one or another body different for one or another person? And what is the cause if the specific genome one has and that has been developed through one’s ancestors? Have the actions and mentalities of parents, grandparents, great grandparents and ancestors who lived and died centuries ago anything to do with the present living person?

Physical matter is only one substance. The conscious individuality, while dying and after dying, went through a long sequence of conscious events. Consciousness, and its active, energetic counterpart and agent, i.e. life, goes its own way. It is what we really are. Imagine that the one who left the previous car now enters another. He or she will still be the same individual, but with a different vehicle, body and circumstances.

A widespread belief, even today, in western science is that the structure of DNA, and therewith our destiny, is brought about by chance mutations due to external causes we can not know. This makes us the play ball of blind elements, like a loose feather in the wind. Due to the limitations that are inherent in physical matter, we can not be certain of a course of events on a level that is too small to measure. It was Werner Heisenberg who defined his uncertainty principle: the absolute limit of our possible knowledge on a micro scale. We can not exactly determine the wave character of an object and its exact locality at the same time. If we are more precise in determining it as a wave, we become less precise in determining is spatial location, and vice versa. To say it more popularly, the perception, due to the ‘coarseness’ of the photons we use for the process of seeing, itself would disturb the measurement. Beyond that, whatever happens we would have to assigned to ‘chance’ – unknowability as a matter of principle.

However this applies only to physical matter. There is no reason to suppose that the same applies to more subtle phases of matter than physical matter – a level ‘inside’ or finer than, or beyond, the quantum realm. The quantum is only a quantum for our world, not necessarily for metaphysical worlds. Though ‘unknowable’ for us at present, it does not contradict the possibility of strict causality on a universal level.

In all times thinkers and teachers have stated that whatever happens is within a framework of cause and effect. Without this, all structure in the universe would be haphazard, can not be steered by any consciousness, and it would undermine our innate intuition of justice. No moral system other than a utilitarian system would have a basis in reality.

If we can accept, on basis of what we now know even scientifically about consciousness outside the physical body, that there are phases or types of matter more subtle than the physical, which are not necessarily – or rather most improbably – answering to identical laws as does the physical, we can easily accept that the law of causation is as valid beyond Heisenberg as anywhere else in the universe. It would open the option that mind, emotion, will and desire and their energies could influence matter in these subtle phases. We could do away with that awful idea of lawless chance.

In the eastern thought systems cause and effect is known as ‘karma’, but under other terms it is widely discussed in such texts as the Bible and the Qur’an, and parts of Native American mythology. It is a universal teaching. Karma means ‘work’, ‘action’, either on the physical, psychological or mental level. It is regarded as a fact in the universe more absolute than gravity and other physical forces. It works on all levels of existence: matter, mind, and on the psychological and psychic worlds. Even spooks can not escape it. Karma is universal. Buddha compared it to the wheel of an oxcart, following the hoof of the ox without fail: so result follows the action of the human mind. Like physical disease many manifest in the body even decades after unhealthy behavior, so a karmic imprint may be carried over in phases of matter more subtle that the physical.

Popularly ‘karma’ is known as only an ethical law of causation: ‘one reaps what one sows.’ Scientifically it is the totality of causality on all levels of substance. However it is not the physical laws of nature. The physical laws of nature are but derivations of karma on our plane of matter. Karma always involves conscious being. There can be no karma without a conscious being having been involved in it. The cause of whatever happens is always in some consciousness.

In the scientific approach of ancient Jainism in India one has categorized karma in 148 types. Almost a hundred of these are determining physical features, like skin structure, types of joints, colors, whether a creature has feathers of scales, whether it flies of creeps, etc. It applies to humans, animals, plants, even minerals, gods and the invisible forces of nature – in short, to all beings. Karma is the power behind evolution. Vision and will of the jīva determine the course of evolution. Many other specific karmas describe the relation between conscious action and the place and circumstances in which one is born, mental and psychological limitations or abilities and psychic powers. This is not the place to go into details; moreover, perhaps many other divisions could be made on a modern scientific basis. In fact, each gene is the precipitation of a physical karma. The general idea is that for every conscious action there is a consequence: the wish to fly may develop wings, or to swim fins. Unselfish actions lead to a good karma, selfish actions – which would enlarge the personal ego – lead to unpleasant experiences, popularly called ‘bad karma’, or more philosophically, ‘challenging opportunity to enhance one’s character’.

This naturally means that any existing individual being is its own child rather than that of its parents. The parents provide the vehicle and the educational circumstances. However it is not so that if you want to fly that in your next life you will be a bird. The history of oneself is very complex. The circumstances in which one is born are not like a linear sequence of chemical or physical reactions. The various phases of consciousness, the mortal mental, psychological, and physical, from the personal to the divine and immortal are all involved with their own power of wisdom and will. Our highest consciousness, which is beyond our personal consciousness, but belongs to the wisdom essence of our jīva, is always involved in what is going to happen next. That is why karma is so difficult to understand, and why for a common personal human consciousness events are impossible to ponder. Thus seeming injustices.

DNA itself is also a karmic result. But it is not so that a reincarnation ego can modify his or her parents’ DNA to fitness. One has long standing links with groups of souls to whom one feels positively connected, or sometimes negatively. Specific DNA codes have developed over time. The individuals incarnating in the sequence of bodies within a family each may have their influence, epigenetically, which may sometimes have a mutative and lasting influence on the DNA. Thus it is said that families as a whole may become more fit for particular professions when the individualities with the same tendencies keep incarnating in the same families. This would explain that there are musical families, intellectual families, even criminal families, and families with more than average tendencies to addiction.

It can not be denied that physical matter in the form of molecules – either internal, such as adrenaline and dopamine, or external, such as LSD, DMT, etc. etc, can influence the impressions received and interpreted by the consciousness enormously. Therefore most people educated in the medical sciences will attribute consciousness to the functioning of the brain rather than that the brain is the result of consciousness.

So let us defend the position that the chemistry of the brain is causal to consciousness. It is clear that chemical substances can heavily influence conscious experience. It is also clear that a small section, even one cell, can influence the brain and consciousness to experience hallucinations. These hallucinations may be so clear that they can not be recognized as ‘unreal’ by the person experiencing them. So what would be the correct conclusion; 1) that consciousness is caused by the activity of the brain; or that 2) consciousness on its own behalf interprets the impulses delivered by the brain? If the brain activity would be the only cause of consciousness, consciousness without a brain could not be possible. However there is ample evidence that consciousness exists and is in continuous motion on its own behalf making use of, but then interpreting the senses and the brain. It should be noted that the Buddhists regard the mind as a sense organ – i.e. the sense organ that reads thoughts as much as vision reads light or hearing hears sound. The sound or the thoughts or the viewed images are actualities in Nature which are in themselves reflections of a larger consciousness. That means, sound indeed exists, even without a hearer or an ear, thought exists, even without a thinker and a brain, and so for the other senses. If that is correct, the sense organs and the brains are merely instruments to contact the universe around. The sense organs filter out a limited band of wavelengths of sound, light or mind. These are but very small sections of cosmic sound, light and mind.

But can it not be concluded that consciousness itself is a substance that is more subtle than physical matter?

Consciousness continues – even brighter it seems – when the brain is severely impeded in its functioning. Even more ‘impossible’ is the fact that totally blind people have been reported to give accurate and detailed visual information about events taking place on the operation table of their surgeon during anesthesia. Even the eye has been proved to be not necessary to see! It almost seems as if the brain nor other sense organs are necessary in order to see, perceive, or think – and that the sensual and mental faculties still operate on the physical plane, as well as on inner planes of which the external world can have no knowledge.

Imagine we thus accept the second position, defending that the brain is the result of consciousness. Then, how did consciousness bring about a brain? Do we need a brain at all? And if we need one, why is it of mind-boggling complexity?

The experiences on the other side seem to be much determined by the experiences on this side of death. The dead see passed-away relatives, and even more importantly, they see vistas worked out which represent the best of their expectations and hopes during their last existence in a body. If the after-death consciousness would be independent of the brain, it would look around in its own new world – indeed it partly does – but have no possible relation with the world and experiences of the brain, which has been long burnt to ashes or eaten by the worms. Still, that is exactly what is described. Dead people do see what they have been acquainted with on earth. So the conclusion is: the brain activity during life is (at least partly) causal to the consciousness after death.

In our heavenly after death states we will not meet people we have never met before (except in the case of high yogis). We will not make new friends and lasting acquainttances there with people who we have never seen in life and who will remain our friends during death. Also we make no acquaintances with people we then meet again when in the next incarnation. In the next incarnation we will only meet those people we have already met in a former incarnation, plus new ones. And in our after death states we will meet the people and circumstances – such as nature and the world – as we ideally expect them to be, not as they actually are – physically and at that moment.

So the conclusion is: chemistry is highly causal during physical incarnation as well as for the ‘here-after’ Then, how can the influence of chemistry be continued when the chemistry of the body has disappeared? Does the ‘body of the dead’ have its own chemistry which is related to physical chemistry? It seems so. Only if every detail is copied, and all detailed experiences can be experienced, the only explanation seems to be that the brain exists cell for cell, molecule for molecule in a more subtle form.

Another observation is that at death many people experience a review of their past life that contains much detail and a logical sequence. Of course it can only be reported by people who survived. If this were only the result of the beginning chemical death and decay process of the brain we could still imagine the nerve cells firing for a while, but that this experience is orderly and intensely logical is more difficult to explain. Moreover it is reported that the life-overview is watched, as it were, by the dying person, and that he understands the meaning of events for which until so far he had no explanation. It is also reported that dying people see the events of their just ended life against the background of a higher, noumenal morality. One also seems to see one’s own mistakes and their consequences – some provision that would be an unnecessary provision of nature when everything is going to end within minutes and for ever.

Then if we dare to venture in the world of the occult – that part of knowledge which modern science has chosen to exclude for itself, and studies the texts of those who have successfully gone through occult trainings – we find described that there is a second such overview taking place a considerable time after death, even when the physical body and brain have been burnt years or decades ago. Then, even a third is described before taking rebirth. These last two life reviews also contain elements of previous lives, and foreshadowings to the next incarnation. This, of course, can only be believed or accepted by those who know these things by their own experience – i.e. deeply trained and advanced occultists, or, on basis of confidence, by those who at least take occultism serious and have studied it mentally to an extent.

Whether we accept this information from the occult sciences or not, the first instance of life-reviews is reported frequently to the world at large. It is enough to proof that consciousness is highly influenced by the processes of the brain, because these reviews or overviews contain the elements that were previously impressed on the consciousness.

So should we conclude that consciousness is the result of brain activity, an arising property of the physical brain? Not, of course, when these overviews contain information concerning previous and future lives. This last argument however has of course no value for the regular sciences, which are as yet unable to step beyond the boundaries of the physically perceptible.

Let us return to the question of the causal relation between brain and consciousness. If consciousness would be something of an entirely different nature than the brain, communication between the two would not be possible. They have to have their ultimate substance in common.

In most, or perhaps all, religions and ancient teachings it is stated that consciousness existed first, before any material manifestation – such as brain structures – came into being. As the oldest known scripture, the Rigveda already taught, the universe was already there before even the gods were born (while humans came much later). However consciousness-life per se has no meaning. It may potentially or latently eternally exist, but it always needs vehicles to express itself.

That which was, and always is, and always will be, is called by many names. In Sanskrit we find the terms Parabrahm-mūlaprakṛti, i.e. eternal spirit-life consciousness and root-substance: that which takes all forms in nature. Forever life-consciousness on the one side and the material in which it expresses itself in myriad forms, are together. They are ONE: i.e. ultimately they are but different viewpoints on the same universal, eternal substance, like energy and matter, wave and particle, spirit and matter. That is why, also on our human level, consciousness and brain go together, and, during physical existence, can not do without each other.

All levels of manifestation, with its infinitude of life-forms, most of which are on levels imperceptible to our eyes and instruments, consciousness and matter go together – however subtle this matter may be, compared to our (relatively) well-known, coarse physical matter.

How does it work?

But how does the physical matter and its processes of the brain communicate with the spiritual or consciousness-side of being? There must be an interface of co-vibration – a recognition of electromagnetic or subtler frequencies that matter and spirit, chemistry and consciousness, have in common.

Physical matter itself has a component that eludes our perception. This is not an ‘astral’ matter that stands apart from physical matter, but rather the more subtle part of physical matter. A physical molecule itself is only the coarsest, vehicular side of the total molecule, or atom, or photon, etc. It is exactly that part of physical matter which is recognized by analogous frequencies – though the octaves may differ, I suppose – by the finer vehicles of consciousness.

So it happens that, when the physical brain decays, i.e. falls apart in its component molecules and atoms, these had already impressed their essential information in their more subtle parts.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the higher or subtler or inner sides of matter are akin to the subtler vehicles of consciousness, and are fully recognizable by consciousness, via these subtler vehicles. As long as we are in our physical body, the processes of cognition by the consciousness is hampered, or naturally (purposely?) limited, by the specific properties of the physical plane, i.e. the physical laws of nature. If the physical vehicle is destroyed by ‘death’ the consciousness is more free, less limited, but can not absorb additional experiences and information from the physical plane. It is thrown back on its own, digesting the impressions impressed on it by the senses and the brain during the last life. It also means that consciousness on the more refined level can no longer be causal on the physical plane. It has become passive and digestive in stead of active and absorbing.

Passive’ however does not mean that it is floating and flying like a dead leaf in a whirlwind. If we study pre-modern non-western scriptures we find that deep and essential processes are going on in the consciousness during death. I already mentioned the second and third overview. It is also reported – as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead – that the dead person, the ‘soul’ or rather the conscious ego, of the person who just died is guided towards its own inner God, or ultimate Judge, and that its ‘heart’ is weighed against the ‘feather’ or Truth. Only those of unstained and pure heart and mind can pass on towards spiritual emancipation, all other egos are ‘swallowed’ by the monster Ammit, which will devour the heart of those who were not completely pure during their life on earth. The monster consists of three animal characters in one, characteristic of the major sins against the spirit: a crocodile head, a lion body and a hippopotamus’s hind part. Those who are devoured by the monster are thrown back into wandering cyclic existence or reincarnation (ignorance, discontentment with and desire to worldly existence, for example) and have to live again in temporary realms of existence. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the ego of the dead person, when it has missed the opportunity to enter nirvāṇa (as most of us do, for now) is confronted many times – up to 49 times – with a choice between its own higher divine essence and his lower karmic attractions it has involved itself in during its last and former incarnations. There we see a repeated psychological struggle between one’s own higher and one’s own lower consciousness. The ego of the dead persons has both these consciousnesses, even though it has no physical body. (The ego has a subtle body in which it can pass through walls or instantly travel to remote places, and other things). So it has strong feelings and thoughts, and will-power and power of distinction. Of course it depends on the evolutionary status and spiritual understanding of things what the ego will choose – that applies during physical existence also. This consciousness is of course independent of any physical chemistry of a brain – though the impressions of events including their feelings, thoughts and misconceptions are still very much present.

So far we have discussed the brain as cause of the experiences of consciousness. Not as the cause of consciousness itself. Many scientists today still believe that consciousness and life do not exist at all in the universe except as a product or arising property of the nervous complexity as found in the human and mammal brain. There might be such brains elsewhere on other planets, solar systems or galaxies, but consciousness can, according to this view, not exists outside some brain-like complex structure anywhere in the cosmos. If such scientists can take the possibility of a more subtle side to physical matter seriously, they might also accept the possibility of continued consciousness (at least for some time) after physical death. They only would have to believe that the subtle side of matter can survive the coarser side of matter – while carrying information within itself. However, if this is the only truth, we might expect that consciousness would not survive death for a very long time.

In occult fact, physical matter is only the occult element ‘Earth’ but this encompasses all physical elements: water, air (gas) fire (electromagnetism, photons, some energetic subatomic particles, interplanetary plasms, etc.) and ether – that undiscovered (and even denied) physical element beyond ‘fire’, but of which the Higgs Field, dark matter and dark energy are perhaps now vaguely perceived hints. If we really want to understand consciousness beyond the brain (including that lower aspect of it which is working through the brain) we would (at least, for now) have to understand the occult elements named ‘water’, ‘air’ ‘fire’ and ‘ākāśa’ in their true meaning – of which the earthly and physiological elements are but reflections.

b. Consciousness as cause of the brain

Now we have to discuss the possibility of consciousness as cause of the brain, and the brain as a result, not the cause, of consciousness. Here we face a problem: we wish to discuss a physical result – the brain (or its genetic definition) – as derived from a cause which then, by definition, can not be physical in the same sense. In other words, we must enter the realm of the metaphysical.

The term ‘metaphysical’ means ‘beyond the physical’. But for many, among whom are the most intelligent and knowledgeable scientists, ‘metaphysics’ is synonymous with ‘vague,’ superstitious,’ ‘indefinable,’ ‘speculative,’ ‘fantasy,’ ‘primitive illusion,’ and right-away nonsense. The last position has been taken by the logical positivists of the 20th century. Even if the possibility of study of the metaphysical realms is not off-hand rejected, still many will say that it is beyond our grasp, inaccessible, that we lack the methods and the keys to enter this realm. Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1922) proposed that we should not speak about that of which we can not speak. He also suggested that he took metaphysics serious, by saying that philosophy is like a ladder, which can be thrown back when we have climbed it. Or in my words: ‘Real life starts only where artificial life ends.’

Still, all other cultures of high development outside the occidental thought atmosphere have given even more attention to metaphysics than to physics. Where they all superficial, ignorant, superstitious?

They were not. They knew very well what they were doing. The proof of this is that their greatest representatives have entered and applied the regions beyond the senses. And they have taught us. Let us be aware that the greatest souls of our western scientific culture are people like Newton, Darwin, De Curie, Einstein, Bohr, Hubble, Hawking, and a whole line of scientists working in the field of quantum physics have confined themselves exclusively to the realm of physical matter and energy. And that great souls of pre-modern cultures are known as buddhas, tirthankaras, rishis or even gods. They taught philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, law, morality, and – mostly hidden for the masses, exclusively to the few, the elect – magic and spiritual development through initiation into the non-physical realms of existence. They knew the properties of the inner realms of the cosmos and of man. They even knew the souls of extraterrestrial bodies: the planets, certain stars, and regions of the firmament. They also knew the energy streams flowing through the solar system, between the planets, and between suns (stars). They understood the analogies between the invisible, conscious energies and the energies as they manifested in the physical realm. Therefore they saw the unity of the cosmos and the human physiological system, but also with the inner realms of the cosmos: that of cosmic mind, will and energy and their specific characteristics, and that of innumerable living, intelligent (more, or less) and conscious beings playing their role in the ‘cosmic ecosystem’ and even that which is beyond cosmic mind: cosmic buddhi. And they found a solution to questions like the causal relation between consciousness and mind and brain.

Let us discuss.

In the above I never said that the brain is the cause of consciousness per se. I said that the brain can be the cause of certain conscious experiences, even after decomposition of the brain itself after death. Can the brain, or any chemical or physical structure (who knows how many mechanism Nature developed on other planets and solar systems and galaxies?) be the true cause of the phenomenon of consciousness itself? Is any physical structure, and its complexity causal to the existence of any form of consciousness. If plants have forms of consciousness, is their physical structure causal to that consciousness?

We can take it as a scientific fact that consciousness, i.e. perception, emotions and at least a certain amount of mental activity, exist without an active brain. There must be some substance, though as yet unmeasured, which can perceive. There must be some substance which can contain impressions beyond the level of the coarsely physical. There must also be the ‘electricity’ or ‘electromagnetism’ or prāa to carry the information to the levels where consciousness then functions. But one factor – the consciousness itself, is in any case the same perceiver – the same ‘I’ outside the brain as the one that functions through the brain. This seems to proof beyond doubt that consciousness itself is not caused by the brain. Consciousness as a phenomenon is something that exists independent of the brain, but the brain and the senses have much to do with what the consciousness experiences.

Summarizing this paragraph: there exist seven things in the material universe: 1) matter in the form of atoms and molecules; 2) a subtle aspect of physical matter itself, the longer lasting essence of every atom or molecule or complex structure, equally complex as the brain and the senses, which can contain and carry the impressions made by the senses and the brain of the physical world; 3) matter subtler than physical matter; 4) matter as organized in complex and active organic structures like the brain and the senses; 5) a form of energy that transports information outside the physical body; 6) the ultimate though limited perceptor, i.e. ‘me’, i.e. my conscious awareness as far as it goes – either intelligent and highly sensitive or less so – which may have a ‘body’ of a subtler type of matter in which it functions, and which may be expanded compared to the ‘me’-awareness, but is still limited; 7) consciousness itself, which is the actual spiritual side of ‘me’, but also of all other conscious being. Like matter and mind, consciousness is a universally existent substance. Our personal bodies exist only of a tiny bit of the totality of the matter in the universe; so can our mind only contain a very little of what we could imagine that cosmic mind might be; so is our consciousness limited to that center of it which we call ‘ego’. We may have an ‘animal ego’, an ‘emotional ego,’ a ‘sensitive ego,’ a ‘mental ego,’ a sagacious or buddhic ego and an all-encompassing divine ego. All these are centers of consciousness – focal points of consciousness per se.

Ultimately, consciousness as a manifested, experiencing entity can exist by the sake of the duality of a material and a spiritual side as it manifests always together in all forms of existence. Beyond manifested consciousness, we can only, philosophically, speak of ‘absolute consciousness-substance,’ of which we can form no idea because it is above the realm of where ideas can reach.

The above metaphysical paragraph is nothing but pure logic applied to existing knowledge: that of matter, energy and a perceptive consciousness.

Religions and great thought systems have always taught us that consciousness-life is universal, omnipresent and without beginning or end. But its forms of manifestation, called ‘living beings’ are temporary. Individuals are born and die, even stars and galaxies do, as do atoms and subatomics. But the ultimate substance of which they are build, must of necessity always be there. Religions taught us about ‘God’ or ‘Allah’ the Creator, helped by many archangels and angels, or Brahmā, the creative deity – or rather totality of creative forces which manifest repeatedly – but ever temporarily. Other systems talk of Cosmic Mind (not individualized) as the high imaginer and creator of manifested life forms. The religious mythologies of many Native Americans speak of the creative powers of the Great Spirit, of whom they speak as ‘Father’ who together with ‘Mother Earth’ or primordial substance bring forth all existing things and remain: the bodies are of the Mother, whereas the father always remains in the Heart of each: ‘Oceti Sakowin,’ say the Oglala: ‘All my relatives’ – which include people of present and past, animals, plants and minerals, stars and planets as well as large quantities of conscious, invisible deities.

Religions taught us that consciousness-life is there before and after every form of existence. But Mind comes later. First there must be a desire in the universe, and a will-power, sending out an energy to prepare matter in such a way that it can become a vehicle of ‘the gods’ i.e. conscious mental beings. Mind and energy were there even when ‘we’ were still asleep, but became active by an impulse from the heart of the universe, our own heart. As the mind is, while meditating on the One Universal, almost infinite in production of ideas, each of these ‘ideas’ has a ground characteristic, which is a combination of smaller ideas which were already formed before, by other mentally active sections in the universe. The mind is the great combiner of existing possibilities, thus creating something new – a new combination – like every painting is a new combination of pigments. Others may have discovered or developed the pigments.

So there was a desire, a purpose (directed energy), and mind – and all of these are facets of consciousness. The universe wanted to expand consciously – otherwise, why would it? The mind imagined, by deepest meditation – called intelligence – ideas which dressed themselves in ever coarser forms of matter in a number of steps, ultimately developing vehicles of expression on this our well-known physical plane. Remind that ‘our physical plane’ includes everything we know today from neutrinos and photons to the (to us) largest perceivable universe supposedly formed 13,7 billion years ago (which is no more than a twinkle in eternity). Our knowledge of the physical includes almost nothing about that which does not belong to the coarse physical plane of existence: the matter of Mendeleev’s periodical system and what we saw through our telescopes and particle accelerators.

The important point here is that: life and consciousness are universals which predate all forms of existence like space predated all stars.

Life-consciousness, following ‘desire’ or a sense of needed direction to go, containing in potency all possibilities for our and probably an unlimited number of other universes, reawakened minds which had existed before. These minds must have gone through cycles of development before. Because individual minds, like individual desires and individual bodies, develop, become larger, day after day – and withdraw to come back again later in order to extend further.

We have seen above, that conscious, sensitive, emotional and mental experiences can exist without the coarsest form of matter of which our brain is composed. There must be subtler forms of matter.

In the Hindu and Theosophical systems we are taught that there are indeed seven degrees of ‘localized’ conscious and seven degrees of matter to serve these degrees of consciousness. Occultists, when advancing, will come to know all of these consciously and will be able to work in them and with them. This system is known as lokas and talas and the worlds in them are known as dvīpas (islands, continents, ‘planets’). Lokas represent the spiritual, consciousness side of things, whereas talas represent the phases or layers or levels of matter in which consciousness expresses itself. Only the lowest or coarsest of these lokas and talas – known as bhūrlokapātāla (to use the Hindu terms) – represents our present world and the only level on which we perceive the universe, so far. We, modern scientists, study only the lowest part of the lowest.

The form of matter in which our material brains leave the type of imprints which we can occasionally perceive as near-death experiences, out-of-the body experiences and after-death experiences, hallucinations, ayahuasca visions etc., is just a very tiny step more subtle than the coarse physical matter. When such experiences are guided and under control by our ‘soul’ they can make sense; otherwise they are just chaotic or weird. Therefore near-death experiences and after-death experiences make sense, but our interpretations of them are biased by associations with our daily world. Thus we ‘translate’ experiences into ‘seeing grandmother’ or ‘Jesus’, etc.

A long as we do not study all these seemingly confusing data gained from and those of medical and parapsychological reports in the light of the ancient occult knowledge which is nowadays available to us, we will not come to a clear understandding of these phenomena.

So, is consciousness the cause of the brain? No. Consciousness is everything. It becomes, in its several aspects: desire, wisdom, mind, creativity, energy and matter and nirvana. It is Mind which causes the brain. Mind, which itself is consciousness as well as substance, influences substance of a subservient phase according and manifests in physical matter only via a number of steps down. Ultimately mind and matter ‘understand’ each other – because they are of the same source and origin. But the individual consciousness of physical matter is very, very dull compared to the mental consciousnesses behind it. The brain-stuff itself really knows nothing. But the brain is serving the mind – in the case of intelligent human beings. The molecules of the brain are amazingly arranged and continuously rearranged and changing and adjusting – and in its structure and sophistication reflecting a far greater intelligence than even that of the present occupier – you or me. The structure of the physical brain – let alone of structures of more physical forms of matter – reflects an insight in the laws of matter that is far above that of humans. No human engineer can even dream of making one singular brain cell. We don’t need a ‘God the Creator’ in the Christian exoteric interpretation however. There are as many creators as there are individual minds, and minds do not necessarily need brains. There must be such beings everywhere in the universe who have a tremendous knowledge and insight in the properties of occult Nature, of which physical nature is but a faint reflection. This, to me, seems the only way to explain the intricacies and complexities, the intelligence and evolutions in all realms of existence – 99,9…. % of which are invisible and imperceptible for our physical senses and instruments.

One question here remains: how does the ‘high’ impress itself on the ‘low’, the subtler on the coarser (i.e. more condensed, attenuated), and why and how do the impressions of the ‘low’ leave an impression of the ‘higher’?

As far as genetic predetermination is involved – and it is involved to a high extend – the question arises: how does it get there (in the DNA) in the first place.

According to eastern and occult teachings, the imprints left at and after death, as discussed above, collect themselves around the consciousness center, the ‘me’. The subtle and beautiful ones can be experienced as heavenly experiences, the coarse and ugly ones as highly unpleasant experiences, while the truly earthly tendencies have to wait (lay in dormancy as groups of earthly properties and tendencies) till the next incarnation.

When the next incarnation is about to take place – often only after a thousand or thousands of years – the center of consciousness, ‘I’, has to ‘descend’ into the coarser layers of astral matter to first form a liga śarīra, a model body. At the same time, two parents come together (or there is only one parent, as in case of reproduction by spores of parthenogenesis) and provide the DNA code defining for protein production. Proteins are building blocks, but also carriers of information throughout the body. This means that the body in which our consciousness will enter is not entirely its own – despite the fact that it brings its total karmic baggage from all past lifetime with it. The DNA may contain definitions, such as diseases, or genius or a wide range of special information for the developing physical brain that were already present is the father or the mother, or the family line or group (caste, culture, or even professional groups), but which do not directly belong to the reincarnating ego. So what the family lines of the parents have collected and genetically fixed (perhaps through epigenetic alterations of the genes throughout many generations – The Hindus may say, seven generations) gives opportunity as well as possible limitations. The driver can not exceed the maximum speed of the car in which he drives, even though in his fantasy he can go double as fast. So the environment to which a reincarnating soul (‘me’) is attracted is partly due to links it created in the past and that were impressed on the subtler phases of matter when he or she died last time, and partly of challenges presented by the accumulated history of the environment – parents, culture, i.e. genotype and phenotype.

Perhaps, occasionally the reincarnating person may modify the DNA he or she is going to use – but I am not sure of that. DNA codes usually transmit from generation to generation, while mutations may either occur due to external, impersonal causes, or perhaps epigenetically induced during life according to the character and experiences of the incarnated person.

It can however hardly be doubted that there will be a strong epigenetic influence on the activity of the DNA by the newly incarnating person, who brings his own character and tendencies. This still invites much research.

It can also hardly be doubted that the incarnated person during his or her life exerts strong influences on the ever changing and adjusting brain. Thus one can become more intelligent by study, more musical by training music, and carry these accomplishments with oneself after death and into the next birth, while perhaps we add some of it to the DNA of the family for the generations to come. Modern research will no doubt soon lead to appropriate answers.

  1. Oliver Wolf Sacks (1933-2015) was a British born neurologist, naturalist and author. He studied the phenomenal and neurological aspects of psychiatric disorders, including studies to hallucinations, Parkinson’s disease. Apart from his scientific work he was author of many bestsellers, mainly describing cases he encountered in his practice as a neurologist and work with psychiatric patients. Perhaps his most famous book is The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. There are many you-tubes online with his lectures and interviews. []
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