Carol Hanner – thehandonthemirror.org
HELSINKI, Finland — Let’s say you’re nothing but a pack of neurons, firing away in a machine called a brain.
That’s the conclusion that neuroscientist Francis Crick offered in 1994, and it’s a view of consciousness – called radical materialism – that dominates among his colleagues today. (And if consciousness can’t exist outside the brain, then life ends when the brain dies. Which means we must discount near-death experiences of the afterlife or communications from the dead. Their brain is gone, so they are gone.)
Ede Frecska has a response to the reductionist view of human consciousness, and he offered it in a presentation in June in Helsinki, Finland, at a conference entitled “Toward a Science of Consciousness.”
So Crick says we’re just a pack of neurons?
“I would say politely to him — maybe you, but not me,” said Dr. Frecska, who is chairman of psychiatry at the University of Debrecen in Hungary. Humans are much more than that, Dr. Frecska suggests, and he challenges some of the conventional views of scientific Western thinking.
Dr. Frecska is a psychiatrist, psychologist and psychopharmacologist who has published more than 50 scientific papers and book chapters on schizophrenia and affective illness. His recent research focuses on psychointegrator drugs and techniques, and his theoretical work focuses on the interface between cognitive neuroscience and quantum brain mechanics.
About 700 participants gathered in Helsinki for a weeklong conference that presented hundreds of research papers on an array of topics surrounding consciousness, from neuroscience to philosophy to a full day of pre-conference lectures on Eastern versus Western research. The annual conference originated at the University of Tucson in Arizona and is held in Arizona every other year. (For more information, go to http://www.helsinki.fi/tsc2015/#.)
Quantum physics has radically changed physicists’ views and theories of the origins of the universe, but decades later, quantum theory still hasn’t had the same significant influence on neuroscience, Dr. Frecska said in his article.
In his journal article called “Nonlocality and Intuition as the Second Foundation of Knowledge,” Dr. Frecska presents a simple thesis: Humans have two forms of input into our information processing and how we sense and define “reality,” and we need to study both of them.
The first method is the one we are most familiar with – the perceptual-cognitive process, called rational thinking. We use information gathered from our immediate environment through our senses and processed by our brain in our ordinary waking state of consciousness.
The second is the less familiar. Dr. Frecska calls this the “direct-intuitive” process, or visionary thinking, which is the domain of shamans and mystics and creative artists. It takes place mostly in altered states of consciousness or in our subconscious and reaches beyond our immediate environment. This is where quantum physics comes in. That scientific view includes nonlocal connections, meaning something that happens in one geographical place can be shown to influence or connect to something in a totally different place, without the two touching each other directly in physical space.
Dr. Frecska argues that this “dichotomy of knowledge” between rational thought and visions can explain the difference between science and spiritual teachings and can form a foundation for research into psychic or paranormal phenomena.
The information gathering and processing that we do in our waking state happens on the surface level, and there is a documented process in our brains as we age called synaptic pruning. We have many millions of neurons when we are born, but as we create memories and form ideas, the brain “prunes” or eliminates the unused neurons until we reach adolescence and have a more fixed set of connections. (Which can explain why younger children can learn languages more easily.)
The “vision” processing, on the other hand, happens at a deeper level that we do not regularly reach in our waking state. Shamans and spiritual leaders through the ages have used meditation and other techniques to reach this visioning level.
Dr. Frecska suggests in his article that “besides the rational approach, there is another way to nature’s secrets, what one may call the intuitive, contemplative, or visionary method of accessing knowledge, and it has physical foundation. Both paths to knowledge are relatively independent of each other and complementary to the other as well.”
He sees this in musicians. They use a rational musical language to express themselves, but the source of the information, the creative influence, comes from somewhere else. Where is that?
“I’m very reluctant to identify specific areas where this happens, but we need a framework for putting these two types of knowledge together,” Dr. Frecska said.
By accepting that there are two types of knowledge acquisition and integrating them, science and spirituality can come closer to reconciliation and an understanding of how consciousness works, Dr. Frecska suggests.
And perhaps, eventually, we will understand what happens to consciousness when we die.