Thinking Outside the Brain

Thinking Outside the Brain
Our bodies feed sensory information into the brain, sort of like a keyboard, mouse, or scanner feeds data into a computer. There is a school of psychology known as “embodied cognition” which suggests that not all of our thinking takes place in the brain. They suggest that we do some of our thinking outside the brain.

Those scientists say that the body helps the brain decide what to do with the data it receives. In one test, volunteers were directed to stand at the bottom of a hill and estimate how steep it was. The answers given correlated with the physical condition of the volunteers. Those who were not physically prepared to climb the hill estimated it to be steeper than it was. Those who were carrying a heavy backpack estimated the hill to be steeper than those who were not carrying a load. A physical challenge of any kind may look easy to a person who is physically ready for the challenge. To a person with disabilities, the same task looks much different.

The way we perceive the world is linked to our physical state. The idea of facing a new day is difficult for a person who is in pain. To a healthy person, the new day may be filled with exciting possibilities. A happy person may thank God for blessings. To a person who is discouraged or depressed the concept of a loving God may be hard to accept. Our bodies may be giving our brain a discouraging message.

Sometimes we need to be thinking outside the brain — even outside our bodies. We need to allow faith to tell us something more than our eyes can see and more than our bodies can feel. Another test by those investigating embodied cognition showed that looking upward influences people to think of others who are more powerful than they are. We suggest that looking up to God and putting faith in Him can change our perspective on the challenges of each day.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Immune System – The Seventh Sense?

Immune System - The Seventh Sense?
The cover story in the August 2018 issue of Scientific American is titled “The Seventh Sense.” Jonathan Kipnis wrote the article with the subtitle “Long thought to be divorced from the brain, the immune system turns out to be intimately involved in its functioning.”

The article reports on new studies of how the brain and the immune system interact. Not only does the immune system help an injured brain, but it also plays a role in helping the brain deal with stress and informs it of microorganisms in and around the body. When I was in college the brain and the immune system were viewed as independent of one another. The central nervous system controls all the body’s functions, and this new study shows that the brain is connected to this system in such a way that the immune system is an integral part of both.

We have five senses–smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing. The sense of position and movement is usually referred to as a sixth sense. These senses report to the brain about our external and internal environments. The brain computes the activity needed for our protection. Microorganisms are present in all of these environments, and the ability to sense them and provide a way to defend against them is necessary. It appears that our immune system is hardwired into the brain, and if that is the case, it is the seventh sense.

In the modern world, we have so many things that attack our bodies that we need to find new treatments based on a better understanding of how the immune system works. New studies are in the works that will expand our knowledge. One thing is clear–the system is highly complex, and we are just beginning to understand how it works and how to deal with the new challenges brought on by the world in which we live.

Psalms 139:14 says it well: “I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.” (King James Translation.) “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous.” (Taylor translation.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

How Much of Your Brain Do You Use?

How Much of Your Brain Do You Use?
How would you answer if someone asked you, How much of your brain do you use? The correct answer would be, All of it.

In the 1890’s psychologist and philosopher William James made a statement that we use only a small part of our mental resources. He was misquoted by broadcaster and writer Lowell Thomas in the foreword to a Dale Carnegie book in 1936. Thomas changed the wording to say that “the average man develops only ten percent of his latent mental ability.” That misquote has been re-quoted and repeatedly misquoted, ever since then.

I am sure you have read, or somebody told you that humans use only ten percent of their brains. In the 2014 movie “Lucy,” actor Morgan Freeman played a world-renowned neurologist who tells an auditorium full of people that “human beings use only ten percent of their brain’s capacity.”
Saying something many times may make people believe it, but that doesn’t make it true. It is not true that we use only ten percent of our brain, no matter how you word it. The truth is that not all areas are active all the time, but we do use every part of our brains. The human brain is an incredible living organ.

If we apply our brain power to consider our brain, we will have to ask some questions. “How is it possible that this amazingly complex and intelligent computer could have happened by mere chance? How could natural selection acting on random mutations with no guiding intelligence create something so complex?” Even more incredible than that—how could mind come from mindless matter?

If we use our brains to think back far enough, we realize that the process of creating life (and ultimately the human brain) would have begun with only non-living chemicals. Natural selection cannot act on non-living chemicals. Let’s see how much of your brain capacity you can use to think about how such a remarkable machine could have come into existence.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

What Makes Humans Special?

What Makes Humans Special?
As we look at the many creatures that inhabit planet Earth, we see that humans are unique. What makes humans special?

Unlike most animals, we walk on two legs. Even primates that can stand upright, spend much of their time on all-fours. Standing upright frees our hands for making and using tools. It also allows us to use our hands for creating art and writing stories and books. Our hands enable us to write instructions explaining how to use the tools we create. Writing makes it possible for us to record the things we learn about the world around us.

Our hands allow us to do things that no animal can because of our opposable thumbs. Most apes and monkeys have opposible thumbs, but only humans can bring their thumbs in opposition to any of our four fingers.

Most animals are covered with a thick layer of hair to protect them from the harsh environment. We protect ourselves by clothing that we design using our creativity and that we make using our hands.

Humans are special in our ability to speak. The design and position of our larynx, tongue, and mouth make it physically possible to create sounds that form words. Beyond our physical traits, the ability to understand symbolism is essential for advanced communication. Your ability to understand the meaning of words, even the meaning of the words formed by the letters you are reading is unique to humans.

Human children are dependent on their parents for a much longer time than any animal, and our family relationships are important throughout life. We are capable of an “agape” type of love that emphasizes the needs of others rather than ourselves. We learn to love in our families as our parents model a godly love for us.

Most animals live as long as they can reproduce and they die soon after that. Their purpose is to procreate and maintain a balanced natural environment. Humans live far beyond the time when we produce offspring because we have a purpose beyond reproduction. God has given us the responsibility take care of the creation and to serve others and to serve Him.

Our brain makes us unique, not necessarily because of its size but because of what it can do. There are animals with larger brains. The sperm whale has the largest. When you compare brain weight to body size, many birds have brains that make up 8 percent of their body weight. The human brain is only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, but it far exceeds the brain of any animal in intelligence.

The greatest difference–and the biggest mystery to science–is what is often referred to as “mind.” How can mere atoms and molecules form cells and neural connections to create the human sense of self-consciousness and purpose? How can they form themselves into a mind that can contemplate the universe and our purpose in life? We believe this most unique feature of humans is more than the physical action of neurons. We prefer to call it our soul.

As we seek to know what makes humans special and unique, we have to look beyond the physical realm. Our creativity, our search for beauty, our desire for loving relationships, our seeking after justice, and our need to worship, all indicate that we know there is something beyond what this world offers. We believe those desires are in our souls because we were created in the image of our Creator and we were created to have a relationship with Him. That is truly what makes humans special.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Dancing Around Religion

Is Religion a Brain Function?
Is religion a brain function? Stav Dimitropoulos is a regular writer for Discover magazine. In the July/August 2017 issue (page 26-27) she wrote an article titled “Trying to Lose My Religion.” She explains her religious feelings by saying, “Could my grandparents’ faith, foisted upon me during my formative years, have hard-wired my otherwise logical brain for mysticism?”

Dimitropoulos launches into a series of speculative discussions trying to explain away the unique religious quality of humans as entirely functions of the brain. In one section of the article, she suggests that psychoactive drugs will accomplish the same result. One of her fellow researchers, Dr. Jordan Grafman at Northwestern University points out that, “Mystical experiences can lead to creative thoughts and artistic development.” This is a step in the right direction. The problem is that researchers like Dimitropoulos lump all religious activity into the same mold.

Attempting to suggest that all religions do the same thing, come to action in the same way, and/or have the same experiences in worship activity is rather ignorant. Many of us worship quietly on our own without emotional experiences or ritual. Suggesting that an apologetic scholar, a Unitarian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a voodoo chanter, a Buddhist, a Catholic priest, and pentecostal participant engaging in tongues all do the same thing, in the same way, is ludicrous.

The fact that creativity, music, art, and worship all have similar origins in religious activity is a manifestation of the spiritual nature of humans. Guilt, sympathy, compassion, and self-sacrificing love are further manifestations of the human spiritual nature. Those of us who work with the mentally challenged and have mentally challenged children can tell you that their spiritual nature is no different from ours. They may not be able to express that nature as we do because of the impairment they have to overcome.

Trying to make religion a brain function is dancing around the fact that there are things humans do which are not rooted in any evolutionary model. Attempting to break the brain down into a multilayered device to explain everything there is to know about humans doesn’t work. God created us in His image and religion is not a function of the brain. Our spiritual uniqueness is not dependent on our brain or any section of the brain.
–John N. Clayton © 2017