Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Just Chemical Reactions in the Brain?

An extract from a book on the Daily Telegraph website by the geneticist Steve Jones makes clear the author's opinion that because what seem to be spiritual experiences can be chemically induced, they originate from within the brain and nowhere else. In other words, they are a figment of the imagination having no objective reality. As the article puts it, religious transcendence has a biological cause. This appears to be another example of scientists' inability to conceive there might be something beyond their power to investigate by conventional means, and that not everything can be explained by reference to the physical world alone.

It has been known for centuries that there are drugs which can give the impression of a spiritual experience to the partaker. For my generation LSD was the drug of choice. The question is does this tell us anything about the spiritual world? Does it mean that it has no independent existence and is a chemically concocted fantasy or is the drug facilitating the reception of the brain to something real beyond itself? I suppose if the answer to this could be settled to scientists' satisfaction it would have been by now but it hasn't so please let me offer my opinion.

I'll start by quoting a comment I left under the article. Apologies if you have already seen this.

'The fact that experiences we perceive as transcendent may be prompted by chemical or other physical means does not disprove the spiritual in any way. It means the barriers that exist in our brains to enable us to function effectively in this world have been temporarily bypassed.

While we are in the physical world the brain is the medium between the soul and the body and we experience everything through it. Under certain conditions it can be stimulated to receive impressions from the soul, and these impressions, while they may be (and often are) ‘corrupted’ by the brain, are real not brain produced.'

This article brings us back to the old (and very curious) desire to strip the world of meaning. Just because a transcendent experience can be initiated by physical means, we cannot reduce the transcendent to the illusion of a disordered mind. The brain is a physical thing and can therefore be affected by physical things which may make it receptive to what is beyond the physical for the simple reason that this already exists as part of the totality of our being. A part we are normally cut off from but which is nonetheless real. For we are not imagining what is not there. We are responding to what is already there, and the reason we can do this is because we are not just physical beings. We are spiritual beings in physical bodies and, when the restrictions imposed by those bodies are temporarily removed, something of our true nature can be perceived. To someone who has not had a spiritual experience this can't be proved any more than colour can to a blind person, but anybody who has will tell you that it was the most intensely real experience of their lives.

This is certainly not a recommendation to seek access to the spiritual world through chemical means. I added the following sentences to my original comment. 'It is worth noting that artificially inducing a spiritual experience will not bring about spiritual growth. It’s more likely to have the opposite effect as we may then become greedily concerned with chasing new experiences.' Drugs may give you a brief sense of the transcendent but what is unearned doesn't come for nothing. The Masters told me quite categorically that taking drugs damages the brain, and can also cause a rending of the aura or energy field that surrounds us which leads to a loss of vitality. The gains, which are transitory and largely illusionary anyway, are definitely not worth the cost.

I say the gains are illusionary and I do so because even if the drug taker believes he has broken through to a higher state of consciousness, that is not usually what has truly happened. Drug-created experiences offer an imitation of the spiritual state but not the real thing which is why I spoke of corruption by the brain. The brain may be rendered sensitive to spiritual impression by the drug but the resulting experience is contaminated to a greater or lesser degree by its artificial nature.

So in one sense the scientists are right. A drug inspired experience does partake of illusion and is, to an extent, determined by reactions of the brain to the stimulant. But in another, and much greater sense, they are completely wrong as this "illusion" is based on reality. It is just an incomplete version of reality, muddied and distorted by input from the brain.

No true spiritual teacher will ever recommend drugs as a means of spiritual growth for, quite apart from all other considerations, the spiritual path is not about acquiring experience. It is mainly concerned with the development of insight and compassion and what drug can help with that?


William Wildblood said...

I've added a link to the original article.

Paul Hillman said...

It's hard to understand why the scientific/atheistic/materialistic camp are so aggressive and almost evangelistic. Organised religion, apart from Islam, is atrophying and less and less relevant, lacking influence , moral authority and direction.
There are examples among the comments on the Telegraph article where we are meant to be dazzled by the laser brilliance of the scientific mind which lays down definitive............opinions,based on the brain = mind = whole person theory.Everyone knows people who believe are deluded, have imaginary friends etc. etc. so the effects of drugs are a fair comparison in a one dimensional world.

William Wildblood said...

Perhaps the materialistic scientists and their atheist acolytes today are the same as the priests of the past who wished to protect and preserve their authority at all costs. Any knowledge outside their jurisdiction must be belittled, and those who hold to it shown to be childish, mad or ignorant.

Paul Hillman said...

It would certainly appear to be the case and smug and self congratulatory hardly covers their attitude.Science is almost a state religion! But as long as they don't develop the idea of an Inquisition it should be possible to keep going - they mostly concentrate on the absurder contradictions of the established but ailing religions, the soft targets. Much "New Age"spirituality does half their work for them anyway, so is far too easy a target for them to bother with.