Saturday, November 26, 2011


Common sense is popularly considered as the infallible guide to life, the universe and everything; but this is emphatically not so. The human animal is a creature that is in a type of conflict with itself that leads it to believe many contradictory things. This conflict is sometimes referred to as a moral conflict – ‘the things I want to do I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do I do’ – and accounted for in terms of friction between social pressures and individual freedom. It is clear that what is of benefit to the individual is not necessarily of benefit to the collective. But it seems odd to suppose that the human animal would invent and go on inventing something – culture, society – that is in conflict with and even militates against its essential nature, unless there is an impulse to do so that determines behaviour in ways that are not strictly ‘selfish’ for want of a better word. But then, the conflict is not only moral, it is also intellectual. Guilt – and some would call it ‘existential guilt’ – is a feature of our species, but so is the intellectual need of members of successive generations to call into question what the previous generation believed. So rather than trying to find cultural factors or genetic factors supposedly responsible for this conflict, it is much more reasonable to speculate that the dissonances we experience as a species are rather down to a much more primordial tension that is inherent in our own nature. I am going to stick my neck out and call this:

the conflict between the brain and the mind.

It is not very fashionable to postulate a distinction between brain and mind, no more fashionable, indeed, than the distinction between body and soul. The ‘brain-mind problem’, so-called, is solved by those seeking scientific respectability by the simple expedient of denying the existence of the mind, or calling it a mere ‘epiphenomenon’ of the brain – something like the hum of an electric motor. I have no need of scientific respectability and care not a fig for fashion, so I’m going to argue for what strikes me as the clearest explanation for the essential conflict at the heart of human mental activity and declare that it’s down to the (creative) tension between the brain, and the mind that uses it. We could call this the conflict between the self and its brain. The materialistic objections to taking the mind seriously have evaporated as physics has developed: we simply do not understand what we mean by ‘matter’ any more. There are clearly levels of reality beyond the material and there is no point in asserting that mind cannot be considered a reality in its own right and studied phenomenologically. This is the line to be taken here. We shall assume not only that mind is distinct from brain but that mind is the more basic phenomenon and that mind makes use of brain for its expression. The mind, on this view, is a more capacious concept than that of the brain and the phenomenology of the mind is correspondingly more complex than that of the brain. For physicalism, brain event a and the ‘corresponding’ mind event a’  are one and the same. But there is no particularly good reason for this apart from a correlation that we do not understand. Brain event a may give rise to mind event a’; but equally, mind event a may give rise to brain event a’. Brain event a may exist without any mind event at all; but equally mind event a might exist without any brain event at all. Mind events might thus be prior to and more complex than brain events. If this view has any merit at, it becomes possible to see how the brain might be a source of limitation on the mind and how the mind might be a possible means of transcendence of the brain. The brain may merely focus the mind; and the mind may well expand the brain.

 The brain, we are told, is an engine tinkered together by the long peregrinations of our evolutionary past including those of the evolutionary past of all of our non-human forebears. This brain, in common with every other organ of every other creature, has been sculpted by all the dramas, tragedies, adventures, catastrophes and accomplishments of our long evolutionary history; and, in common with brains of other creatures, it is an impressively effective but sometimes unruly agent. But if we were no more than the sum total of the operations of our brain thus evolved, we would be creatures without conflict, like our non-human cousins, whose brains allow them to live in the same manner generation after generation without inner discord. Far from being impelled to live life in a certain way and no other, we (modern) humans find it impossible to live like our parents. We announce to ourselves that there is no essentially human life at all and that we are whatever we decide to make ourselves into. We imagine we are completely free to do this, even though, at the same time, we may hold the doctrine of total behavioural determinism by the brain.

Even a rudimentary knowledge of the history of our species should suggest to us, without invoking an immaterial self, that our mental evolution seems to require at the very least some ability of the brain as a system to modify itself, to stand outside of itself, as it were, and to criticise its own functioning.  It is as if the software running on the computer, so to speak, were built so as to be able to re-write itself on a regular basis. We seem as a species always to be rubbing up against what our brains impel us to do and finding stratagems that we think might be in some way better – or at least different. That doesn’t much look like mechanistic determinism and perhaps the ballooning of self-conscious awareness in our species is the irruption into what appears to us as material nature of the universal non-material levels of reality. If we take the existence of the human mind seriously – rather than trying to explain it away – then there is no reason at all why mind should not be considered to be a universal feature of realty. The emergence of this reality into the natural world in the form of self-consciousness can no longer be assumed to be an impossibility, as it was on the basis of now discredited conceptions of the material constitution of the world. We don’t necessarily have to go into the realms of Hegelian speculation concerning the absolute spirit and its emergence into consciousness in the human being; but we can postulate that universal intelligence achieves consciousness in the human individual thanks to the complexity of the brain, and that this brain, far from being a perfectly  adequate instrument for the expression of this universal intelligence acts as a restriction against which such intelligence constantly struggles. This restriction is, it seems, vital to our creativity and our ingenuity. It is in that sense that we suggest here that human beings might be in conflict with themselves and that this conflict emerges most visibly in that battle between our soaring imagination and our common sense.

This contradiction at the heart of our being should make us reflect that while we might be determined by our brains, there is clearly something else going on both in our individual consciousness and in the human species as a whole. The conflict of which we speak is of the very essence of what we are and is closely related to our restless drive towards accomplishment. It is responsible for the fact that we have moved in a very short time – speaking in evolutionary terms – from being no more than savannah-dwelling bipedal ape-like creatures to being, in our own eyes, masters of the universe. Our volcanic creativity, our use of language and mathematics, our technological inventiveness, our political evolution, our poetry and religion – all of these features of our history are connected to the central conflict of our being. So what is the nature of this conflict? The suggestion here is that it is down to a tussle within the human species between the swelling cerebral mass, as a survival-machine produced by evolution, on the one hand, and the emergence into human consciousness, on the other, of a level of reality that can only be described as ‘intelligent mind’ and that may for all we know be as essential a feature of the universe as matter. It may well be that the brains of mammals had to reach a certain level of complexity before this became possible, but whatever the case, there is a chasm between the human species and all other species that is to some extent explained by the nature of the brain, but that is best explained by the operation of the mind. We do not need to assume a dualistic structure to reality, with inexplicable interactions between two apparently irreconcilable realities, since current theories of physics do not exclude the operation of the mental in the non-material world of the sub-atomic in ways that cannot be explained by a purblind insistence upon the primacy of the three-dimensional object.

If this thesis is true, then we have to assume that brain-thinking and mind-thinking can be prised apart. Intuitively, this seems possible. But the difference between brain thinking and mind thinking is perhaps most clearly evident in the phenomenon of ‘common sense’. Human common sense is demonstrably a brain function: it is the way we are impelled to think before we start to reflect on our thinking, before we are even conscious of thinking. Common sense is what appears to humans to be obvious, self-evident or completely reasonable. For example, there are many perceptual conclusions that we draw about the world that are ‘obvious’ to us. It is ‘obvious’ to the common sense view that the universe is composed of three-dimensional objects. It is ‘obvious’ that the world is flat. It is ‘obvious’ that the sun goes around – or at least over – the stationary world from the east towards the west. It is ‘obvious’ that space has three dimensions and time is infinitely linear. It is ‘obvious’ that the moon is the same size as the sun, and so on. Additionally, there are many other common sense conclusions that we draw that have a moral character and are more subtle. It is ‘obvious’ that I owe a greater duty of care and have a greater moral responsibility towards my relatives than to non-relatives. It is ‘obvious’ that strangers are to be treated with suspicion. It is obvious that potential sexual partners are in themselves attractive. It is ‘obvious’ that aggression from you is to be met with aggression from me. It is ‘obvious’ that I should strive to maximise my sphere of influence, my power, my possessions. And so on. These ‘obvious’ matters are of relevance at the forefront of consciousness, but there are a host of other less conscious to unconscious determinants – some of which emerge when we discover perceptual illusions, for example – that nudge us towards conclusions that we find self-evidently correct and that we refer to as ‘common sense’. It is only when we begin to think about our thinking that these determinants become clear to us, we become aware of the brain’s influence upon us, and we become able to modify our behaviour or our knowledge in the light of our own freedom to criticise our common sense. The growth of culture can almost be seen as our transcendence of the brain as we become ever more skilled in criticising its operation and our consequent liberation from our common sense.

Common sense is clearly very fallible and may be dangerous once we adopt lifestyles more complex than those of hunter-gatherers. What was obvious to our ancestors served them well; but as we move away from the earth-bound, low velocity lives they led, we think about our thinking in a way that demonstrates our ability to think beyond the strictures of our brains. What is obvious now is that human civilization has taken the species beyond the sort of response to our environment that we observe in non-human animals, that all of these matters that are ‘obvious’ to our common sense view of the world are in fact far from obvious at all and are in other frames of reference mistaken. Modern physics has substantially destroyed our common sense perceptions of the world around us and centuries of moral and political evolution of our societies have extensively modified our common sense moral perceptions, too, since many of them were unjustifiably discriminatory. So although we still ‘know’ certain things of a perceptual and moral character – and know them with greater certainty the less aware we are –  we may now have to accept on the basis of rational argument that we don’t know them at all, that they arose out of mere brain ‘prejudice’ and that we are indeed mistaken. 

The world is not flat. Space is not three-dimensional. The world is not composed of three-dimensional objects, my family is not inherently more deserving than strangers, aggression is not obviously best met by aggression or vengeance, sexual attraction is a trick of the brain and it is not self-evidently true that I should always seek to maximise my own advantage. These things are ‘false’; and the fact that generations of human beings have thought otherwise does not change that.

So what is going on? What is going on is that our brains deliver to us a perceptual interpretation of the world along with certain patterns of thought and patterns of behaviour, on the one hand, that were useful to our survival as animals among animals, and our minds, with increasing awareness, find these perceptions and patterns of thought to be inadequate, on the other. This conflict is of our very essence and the view taken here is that it indicates the split in our being between mind-thinking, on the one hand, that is free to criticise and modify its mode of expression, and brain-thinking, on the other that is not. Brain-thinking is the hard wired bit of our mental economy. Brain-thinking will always impel us to pursue those types of behaviour that the brain has evolved to equip us for. We will behave like the elk with its enormous antlers and continue to use our adaptations in ways that lead to the development of even more effective versions of these assets. But like the elk, we will discover that these adaptations can be a handicap. Then, in contrast to the elk, our imagination will reveal to us where our advantage has turned into a hinderance and allow us to resist the promptings of our brain and its common sense. Our imagination will suggest to us ways in which we may liberate ourselves from the determinations of our brain. It is this creative transcendence of our innate thinking, we suggest, that is the indication of an intelligence at work in us that is not explained by the functioning of our brain alone.

Now while this intelligence may not have an evolved physical organ of expression in each individual human being, it does have an organ of expression in the totality of cultural institutions of the human species. It is this cultural organ – what Popper calls ‘World 3’ and what we have called ‘midworld’ – that permits the expression of universal intelligence through the human species as a whole and through the individual where this individual is, in turn, cultivated.

Clearly, our common sense reactions to the world are those reactions that evolution has programmed into our brains as a result of our struggle for survival. So our common sense is down to the unreconstructed activity of our brains that operates unopposed in the absence of education and continues with considerable power even where education has brought it to consciousness. It seems clear that brain-thinking does not require consciousness at all. In common sense it is, as it were, as though we were following the ordinary gradient of brain-activity. In common sense we experience the mechanisms of our brains acting according to their own structure. In our common sense conclusions, insofar as these enter our critical awareness, we ‘catch our brains at it’ and are able with increasing mental distance to criticise these conclusions. We ‘catch our brains at it’ in all sorts of situations where we may think that we are acting on reflection but where in fact our brains are thinking and acting autonomously. This is certainly the case in the affective aspects of our lives, in our sexual activity, in our motivation to find food, in our need to maximise the sphere of our power and influence and so on. But it is also the case in our perceptual interpretation of our immediate environment, in our locomotion, our judgement of space and time, our conclusions as to the suitability of a certain type of movement within a certain terrain and so on. 

But the most treacherous operations of our brains in the exercise of common sense are found in our chains of reasoning based upon common sense premises and then extrapolated to frame a general principle. For example, we may reason that since our immediate environment seems full of three-dimensional objects and nothing else is detectable by means of our senses, then there is nothing else in the universe. We may reason that since we can get to the top of a tree by means of a ladder, the use of a much longer ladder will get us to the moon. We may argue that since the world is clearly composed of three-dimensional objects, thought just has to be a three-dimensional object. We extrapolate all the time on the basis of common-sense premises and then discover subsequently that such extrapolations are illegitimate. Only after much trial and error do we finally reassess and possibly abandon our common sense conclusions. It is for this reason that the confident empiricist should temper confidence and hasty judgement with caution and perhaps a little imagination. Empiricism is common sense elevated to the level of the absolute and even common sense should tell the empiricist that thinking like a human being is not necessarily any more absolutely valid than thinking like a tadpole. (The comparison comes from Socrates.)

It is clear that as a species we have always been engaged upon a long process of modifying or abandoning patterns of thought that were given to us a priori, as it were, by the structure of our brains. We have as a species gone beyond the dictates of our brains in all manner of ways, both perceptual and moral. But we have also gone beyond our brains in our tendency to call into question and abandon our own extrapolations from common sense. What, for example, could be less commonsensical than the discoveries of quantum theory? Or how could an evolutionarily determined brain come up with the ideas of the Big Bang, black holes or other exotic states of matter far beyond the scope of any creature’s experience? So the question is: how does this process of ‘going beyond the brain’ come about? How do we ‘catch our brains at it’, catch ourselves thinking according to wobbly brain-supported assumptions, spot the fallacy and correct it? Animals cannot go beyond their brains. They are stuck with their brains and compelled to follow what they dictate. The elk has to carry on with its competitive behaviour that led to the disproportionate growth of its antlers and thus perhaps damage its future prospects, particularly if it gets stuck in a thicket while fleeing from wolves. The poor elk is stuck with that fate. We are apparently the only species that habitually criticises its own evolutionarily determined patterns of thought and modifies them where they appear to come into conflict with an expanded conception of reality. How do we do this?

The answer that occurs most insistently is that the human self-conscious mind is somehow ‘outside’ of or ‘beyond’ the brain and able to modify its activity from this outside vantage-point. Of course such a conclusion will draw howls of rage and ferocious opposition from all sorts of quarters, not least from the materialists and behaviourists. But the simple riposte to their arguments will often be that their ferocious opposition is more often than not based upon common sense and that they are not therefore going to win the argument by simply asserting what the brain compels them to assert. The empiricist dogma, that only what is experienced by the senses is known, is patently false. There is no longer any point or any justification in the assertion that what cannot be experienced by the bodily senses has no reality. Since that is so, we are entirely justified in following our own intuitions about our minds where rationally they take us. The empiricists will assure us that thoughts of God or transcendent minds are merely the brain-determined craving that our species has for coherent stories about and coherent meanings to our environment. But the view here is that empiricism is brain-determined common sense and probably misguided. Stories of gods and universal meanings arise because of our access to universal intelligence and not from the structures that our brains have evolved in the course of their evolution. 

The empiricists can not have it all their own way: if thoughts of God are just aberrations of the brain, then so are thoughts of universal scientific explanation. For us it is a blind alley to explain any aspect of the extraordinary effects of human creativity by pointing to this or that bit of the brain. Our creativity and the imaginative flights of fancy that are at the heart of our cultural accomplishments, are more intelligently seen as the emergence into human consciousness – admittedly still in primitive and often distorted form – of the universal intelligence that generates the cosmos. Moreover, this notion of universal intelligence gives us a sheet anchor to our minds when the business of criticising our brains and our common sense calls into question our cherished assumptions. The empiricists, who must equally criticise common-sense assumptions, have no compass thereafter to guide them on what has to be a trackless mental sea. That is why the empiricists are sometimes so ferocious and why they insist on the exclusive and absolute value of empiricism. The alternative seems to them to be pure irrationality. We at least are able see rationality as universally valid because it is rooted in universal intelligence.

Our creativity arises in our minds and not in our brains. We know all sorts of things that run counter to common sense and that nevertheless turn out to be truer than the conclusions of common sense. To take a simple example: whereas Euclidean geometry was regarded for many centuries as corresponding to the essential nature of reality, non-Euclidean geometries dreamt up out of sheer mathematical exuberance  by Gauss, Riemann, Lobachevski and others turned out to correspond much more precisely to our expanding conception of reality and facilitated the development of Einstein’s theories of Special and General Relativity as a result. Euclidean geometry is based on the ‘obvious’ properties of three-dimensional space, delivered to us to by our brains. And yet we have the ability to think up, in purely abstract ways, exotic properties of a world we have not experienced but suspect may just be possible. That such properties later turn out to be applicable to new features of the material world unsuspected by our common sense is nothing short of miraculous. The fundamental issue here is that of human creativity. We get beyond our brains by means of our creative thinking and we do it with such consistent success that to claim this merely as one part of the brain talking to another simply fails to convince. The prophets of naturalism, materialism and determinism will all claim that creativity is simply brain activity turbocharged by feedback loops created by language or by cultural pressure. Where it is not so determined, they believe, creativity is largely accidental. But both language and culture are themselves the results of human creativity over generations and therefore cannot be called upon to explain creativity. As for the ‘accident’ theory, in which creativity arises out of random brain-activity, this is a declaration of ignorance and mere desperation – the scientific equivalent of the unconvincing ‘god-of-the-gaps’.

Determinism, brain-determinism simply does not work as an account for human creativity. The easiest and clearest way to account for the manner in which humanity has consistently and massively altered the functioning of its own thought, transcended its common sense, is to suppose that the mind is a broader, larger and more complex phenomenon than the brain and that it is the action of the mind upon the brain that drives it to transcend its own limitations while continuing, in many respects, to be tied to them. There is clearly a two-way process going on: the brain becomes ever more practised in its functioning as a result of experience; but this conceivably allows the mind enhanced scope. The mind can be presumed to be far more complex than the brain, just as all possible, but as yet unknown, mathematics is more complex than existing mathematics. Such complexity could not of course be squared with the notion of mind as an ‘emergent’ property of the brain, for emergence, though permitting interactionism, leaves the mind less, and not more, complex than the brain it uses and from which it supposedly emerges. The only reasonably respectable conception of mental reality that could allow the mind to be more complex than the brain is that of panpsychism, according to which mind is a property of the universe at large and as such predates the emergence of any brain, human or otherwise. And indeed a conception of the universe that includes intelligent mind as one of its fundamental properties is not inherently difficult to accept any more. It is only difficult to accept is if one is ideologically committed to one or other – or all – of the various eliminative theories that since the eighteenth century have striven to exclude mind from the universe, first in the form of a deity and then in any form at all, including that of a human mind.

A universe in which intelligent mind is a fundamental property may well strike us humans as against common sense and thus as inconceivable, but it is not more against common sense than quantum theory and its inconceivability is a result of the limitations of common sense anyway – limits that we transcend with great regularity. So inconceivability and common sense are no objections to a theory of universal intelligent mind. Moreover, it is not as inconceivable as all that, since we know from our most intimate experience, and against common sense, what is implied by the word ‘mind’ and we have direct experience of the interaction between mind and the material systems that make up our bodies. Extrapolating from our own mental experience to the universe at large is now more justified than extrapolations to the universe at large of human common-sense intuitions concerning matter. We do not need, moreover, some unsatisfactory dualistic theory to make the idea of universal mind comprehensible to ourselves. The world of physical matter is quite complex enough to include in it mind-like levels of reality. The old idea that matter had to mean three-dimensional objects has gone forever. Matter is now understood much more in terms of energy fields than in terms of three-dimensional objects. There is, therefore, no reason at all, why intelligent mind should not be an energic feature of the entire universe just as intelligent mind is a feature of the human being. The world of three-dimensional objects arises out of a level of reality in which there are no three-dimensional objects and that level could conceivably be not one, but a multiplicity of levels, - let’s say a hierarchy of ever more subtle fields –  on one or more of which mind could operate.

So the distinction between brain-thinking and mind-thinking is by no means a wild or fantastical idea. The brain is only a three-dimensional object in terms of our common sense and in terms of the capacities of the sensory-cognitive apparatus bequeathed to us by evolution, and we are learning to be ever more critical of all of this. It is not reasonable to claim, as dyed-in-the-wool materialists do, that thoughts are objects. It is, however, perfectly reasonable to believe that thoughts are what we think they are – i.e. thoughts – and to suppose that the history of human culture has been a progressive liberation of the mind and of human consciousness from the limitations of the brain. If we had been stuck with our brain and nothing more, we would arguably be still living in the manner of our hominid ancestors. The explosive development of human culture and human consciousness is well accounted for in the speculative theory that the increasingly complex brain produced by evolution permitted the emergence into human consciousness of the universal mental levels of reality. If what we understand as the ‘matter’ of the universe is more a creation of our sensory-cognitive apparatus than objective reality, and if this material character of the macroscopic world arises out of a distinctly non-material substrate, then our brains, too, can be understood as arising out of a non-material substrate, an energy field or something analogous. Such conceptions are entirely within the bounds of modern physical possibility. Mental activity will thus always correlate to observable brain activity, since the two – the mental dimension and the physical – are aspects of a single reality that in turn is part of the intelligent, mentally active universe. But correlation is not the same as causation; and it is no more reasonable to say that the empirically observable electro-chemical activity of the brain causes the thoughts than it is to say that the thoughts cause the electro-chemical activity.

Common sense has to be taken with a large pinch of salt. The brain imposes all manner of mental habits upon us that we do well not to trust, when it is a question of understanding reality. Reality has to be our guide, not fashionable theory. And whatever else we may know or not know, we know that our minds are real. Much of scientific advance has involved overturning common sense notions and there is no reason to suppose that this will not continue as science becomes deeper and investigates ever deeper levels and wider vistas of phenomena. Science is still too closely linked to common sense. The philosophy of naturalism and its related ideologies of determinism and materialism arose from a too uncritical reliance on common sense and therefore on the natural gradient of the brain. Science, when it comes of age, will take us ever further from our brains and ever deeper into the mental reality that we are only just beginning to appreciate. But we may have to take mental reality more seriously first. Technology is taking us ever further from the limitations of our bodies and there is no reason to suppose that science will not do the same for that bit of our bodies we call the brain. 

Materialism is dead. Determinism is dead. And there is now no longer any reason to cling to the ideology of naturalism. The mind is the most difficult entity for science in its present form to understand, precisely because science is still too dependent on common sense. The self-conscious mind is even more difficult to understand. Science will have to grow up and evolve new methods for dealing with the immaterial. But this is not something to fear; nor is it something radically alien, since art has been dealing with it for centuries. On the contrary, a liberated science holds out the possibility of vastly enhanced understanding and vastly expanded vistas of reality. If such intellectual developments eventually rehabilitate the idea of a deity, then so be it. The idea of a God is only to be feared if it is shackled to the common sense of the human brain and all the primitive obsessions that arose from it, its tribalism, its territoriality, its xenophobia, its naïve three-dimensionalism and all the rest. The modern atheists rely entirely on their common sense to deliver their truth. The truth is that the brain has never delivered any more than a convenient, survival-related truth. The search for truth is an activity of the mind and that mind, once honestly considered, leads inevitably to the thought of a universal intelligence.

It is completely obvious that we are limited beings with a limited conception of reality who are still struggling with the straightjacket of the brain upon our thought. The question is whether we are definitively imprisoned within those limits or whether there is a way for us to transcend them. I have tried to argue that though our brains are determined, evolutionarily circumscribed structures, our minds give us access to levels of reality that are not merely material, and therefore we may legitimately hypothesise that we do have mental access to levels of reality from which our brains  exclude  us. Thus the interaction between mind and brain on the historical level has led to an expansion of our capacities in all areas, because we rightly suspect that more is going on in the universe than our brains give us cause to believe. Below the sub-atomic level of reality, we have no indication from our brains of anything at all: reality shades off into a mysterious fog or foam of energy. There is no reason, however, why the hierarchical levels of reality to which we do have access – macroscopic objects, microscopic objects, atoms, sub-atomic particles etc. – should not be supported by any number of additional structured levels beyond the sub-atomic, as David Bohm suspected. 

The structure beyond the levels of the sub-atomic would provide ample accommodation for the presence and operation of any number of entities that are unknown to us from our sensory experience of the world but that might be grasped to some extent by us on the basis of our own experience of the mental. We perceive the world in a particular way; and empiricists will assert boldly and with breezy optimism that there is nothing else to reality other than what we experience in that way. That they are mistaken in this is clear not only from non-scientific culture but also from the progress made by particle physics. They can also clearly be seen to be mistaken from the simple observation that they have no account to give and therefore no understanding to offer of the phenomenon of mind unless they reduce it to a thing. Their account of mind is an eliminative one: they can only deal with mind by denying its existence because there is no sensory access to it. They can only study mind by murdering it first. Less ideological thinkers, however, see clearly that as limited beings, limited by the capacities of our brains, we are right to suspect that more is going on in the world than we can understand by empirical means. 

The hunch that members of the human species have always had that something is going on in reality beyond what we perceive, is a legitimate ground for speculation concerning structures in reality that are not given to the experience vouchsafed to us by our brains. The easiest conclusion to draw is that our mental access to levels of reality beyond the physical is an avenue of communication between those levels and ourselves. It may well be after all that we have a connection with what has traditionally be called ‘the divine’ through our mental experience. After all, we can postulate that our bodies are in causal contact with all the other matter in the universe, so why should we not suppose that our minds are similarly in contact with a universal mental reality? It is for this reason that one does well to take the deliverances of the brain cum grano salis and to allow the hunches of the mind concerning the complexity of reality to provide a very much expanded conception of the world than that of the merely empirical.

Common sense is thinking according to the limitations of the brain. Poets, prophets, philosophers and imaginative scientists have always suspected that there is more to the world than meets the eye –  and brain –  and indeed followed strong hunches as to what that ‘more’ might be. There is no reason why we should bow to the bullying dogmatism of the empiricists when the world patently is so much more wonderful than they allow and becomes yet more so with every new discovery that expands our consciousness. Expansion of consciousness and spirituality are related concepts. If spirituality means anything at all, then it involves some aspect of humanity that is not tied to the empirically observable brain. The brain dies and decomposes - that is the universal lot of evolved creatures. That much we do know. If any spirituality that may be achieved simply died with the brain, it would be a waste of time to pursue and accumulate it. All the religious traditions of the world suggest that spiritual growth involves progressive departure from those patterns of behaviour that seem to be programmed into the brain of the species. Spirituality is a matter of increased individuation – or perhaps it should be ‘dividuation’ – and a diminution of those features of the personality that are merely human. It is a departure from the attitude to the world governed by common sense. We are no longer justified in dismissing the fact that humanity has always suspected the mind and body to be separable with the former providing the locus and focus of onward growth. There is no reason to assume, except on merely common sense grounds, that the death of the body annihilates the gains made by the mind. Such a possibility is entirely compatible with our present understanding of the world and of the information that structures it.

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