Tag Archives: Sense of Self

Intent of the Day: Maintain Our Identity

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In the midst of changing seasons, strong personalities, new situations, finding yourself tossed in the waves of personality is a great likelihood. We’re navigating bosses, spouses, family members, strangers, ourselves. It’s a lot to juggle and if you’re not careful, you can find yourself changing shape based on the circumstance when ideally we would all show up as our most authentic selves.

When we can maintain our identities, the world gets to experience the gift of our individuality, our contribution of feelings and perspective and the confidence that comes when we are successfully able to communicate. Today our intent is to maintain our identity in a sea of personalities.

You too? Here are 3 things to help: Continue reading

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 12)

University of Maryland Brain Cap Technology Turns Thought into MotionClick here to read part 11!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

In our prior post we reconstructed the concept of “you”, which we all typically, think of as bounded by the skin and the body it encloses.  But a hallmark of 21st-century science is to tear down boundaries.  A limitless universe that springs from the quantum vacuum, (along with possibly multiple universes) is the setting for an unbounded “you” – a self that merges with creation. The bond that unites you with the universe isn’t simply physical, although every atom in your body comes from stardust, much of it the residue of exploding supernovas in intergalactic space.  Far more importantly, “you” are a mental construct, and therefore the bond that weaves your life into cosmic life is invisible.

We’ve argued that human intelligence most plausibly arose from an intelligent universe. As the great physicist Erwin Schrödinger declared, “To divide or multiply consciousness is something meaningless.” In other words, consciousness is one. It only appears to be divided up into billions of human minds, and likely into uncountable forms of consciousness in other species. In the same way, you might see an aqua sweater as blue while I see it as green, but “color” itself is a single thing; two people can’t have their own separate definition of it.

There’s a telling metaphor in the Vedic tradition: When the sun shines on a perfectly still sea, there is one sun reflecting back. But when the sea is rippled and moving, there are millions of tiny suns shining back. This appearance doesn’t mean that the sun isn’t one. This insight comes very close to an ancient passage from one of the central texts in Indian spirituality, the Yoga Vasistha: “Cosmic consciousness alone exists, now and ever. In it there are no worlds, no created beings. That consciousness reflected in itself appears to be creation.”

In short, either consciousness is unbounded or you haven’t looked deep enough. The reason that Schrödinger felt competent to talk about unbounded consciousness was that physics had finally reached deep enough, to the most fundamental level of nature. In the quantum realm we know for certain that notions of “boundaries” evaporate: the wave functions that describe the locations and boundaries of “particles” extend in all directions to the borders of the universe itself.  Eventually the dissolution of boundaries became total. Einstein, who was a conservative in these matters compared to some of the other quantum pioneers, wrote a condolence letter to a friend who had just lost her husband. It contained the following famous passage: “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Quantum physics forced us to re-conceive ourselves as creatures who appear to be physical and bounded by time, even though our substance isn’t material and has no boundaries in time. Down further in scale, re-conceiving who we are becomes an ever greater imperative: gluons, quarks, neutrinos, mesons, bosons (including the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle”) all intimately overlap. The universe – and you – continually bubbles up from these shadowy subatomic entities, each sensing, reflecting, and interacting in a seamless whole. In the nanoseconds when these elusive entities escape their invisible domain, science touches on the same picture painted by the Yoga Vasistha, of a creation born of unseen activity beyond the reach of inner thought and probably beyond the reach of imagination as well.

What’s left is mathematics clinging to the edge of the cliff with clutched fingers, hoping not to fall.  But mathematics isn’t reality, while consciousness is. All of us, including scientists, protect our boundaries, finding it hard to join unbounded reality. But if consciousness is real, we don’t have to leap into an alien realm to reach the foundation of creation – it is inside ourselves. The limits of physicality have been reached. This is an area on which there is scientific consensus, thanks to quantum theory: There is a smallest level of scale beneath which one can go no further, at least in this “real” universe of four-dimensional spacetime, known as the Planck scale: 10-35 meters (-1 followed by 35 zeros).  Besides defining where physicality ends, the Planck scale also marks the end point of the environment that encloses material things, such as time, space, and the laws of nature.

We don’t know for sure what the smallest entities are like.  (The five senses don’t help at such an inconceivable scale.) Some think they are the “multidimensional strings” of string theory, but there are other theories as well each sorely lacking in evidence but backed up by various intricate and beautiful mathematical formulations – indeed, the real problem is that there are too many mathematical possibilities that all seem equally valid – or invalid. Whatever the smallest “stuff” is, it cannot be subdivided into smaller bits and pieces with known locations in time and space.  Instead, the universe emerges from the energetic void that is the foundational nature of creation. But even “void” is a tricky term, since the pre-creation state isn’t empty, a pure, empty, vacuum. There are huge amounts of energy linked to vast numbers of virtual particles that potentially manifest an observable reality. Emptiness is spontaneously and continuously giving rise to these tiniest entities, coming and going in a “quantum foam.”  Thus, from the smallest level of scale, the universe is not a place, an empty box in which we reside.  Creation is a process that brings existence out of non-existence. You are that process. You are seamlessly woven into a reality that is complete, whole, and perfect just as it is.

Surprisingly to some but not to all, the subjective experiences found in the Yoga Vasistha and many other ancient texts emphasize the unity of experience. These texts, as it turns out, precisely reflect our objective scientific understanding of how the universe arises. The usual terms attached to ancient texts (e.g., spiritual, religious, wise, intuitive, enlightened) send up red flags to scientists and their ingrained distrust of subjectivity. So let’s resort to a neutral term that links subject and object: observation. In a reality where artificial boundaries have collapsed, the “in here” of subjectivity is no longer walled off from the “out there” of objectivity. The seamless flow of creation expresses itself in both. An observer-based science can be founded on meditation or the Hubble telescope. In a dualistic framework these are opposite poles.  But they come together in an unbounded framework.

For a century quantum physics has wrestled with the so-called observer effect as it impinges on isolated waves and particles. It was mind-blowing enough to believe that the process of observation turned waves into particles.  But the logical extension is mind-expanding: Everything in the universe depends on the linkage between observer, observed, and the act of observation. If it is willing to adopt a touch of humility, science will see that ancient contemplative traditions arrived at conclusions that were not duplicated until “objective” methods acquired incredibly advanced, precise tools. The Higgs boson required billions of dollars in machinery, and countless hours of theorizing, in order to pry out a new piece of knowledge about how subatomic particles emerge from the void. The ancient wisdom traditions began with the big picture instead, and their descriptions of the big picture still outstrip ours. The ancient explorers of consciousness understood the nature of the void, encountered not through mathematical calculation but through direct experience. The void revealed itself to be none other than mind, usually written as Mind to signify that it lies beyond our small, personal minds.

To be continued… 

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers.  Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation. Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony) P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine. Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony) Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.  www.neiltheise.com  neiltheise.wordpress.com

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 4)

Arrival on my WayClick here to read Part 3!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

The skull is not an impermeable barrier, nor is the famous “blood-brain barrier” that served to keep the brain in splendid chemical isolation. So the boundaries between brain and not-brain in the body are not clear cut. The brain is permeable to the rest of the body, signals streaming in and out, including from electrical connections by nerves, signaling molecules such as hormones, and cells trafficking in and out. In fact, there is no brain without the body and therefore no mind without the body, either.

To say the brain creates the mind is at best incomplete. In a simple analogy, every automobile needs an engine in order to run. But an engine by itself goes nowhere. Conversely, without an engine, a car body and wheels go nowhere. The functions that make a car a car require every part acting in concert. Likewise, the functions that our dynamic minds carry out are created by the body-brain complex, not by the brain alone. The brain has always been out of the box; it’s just been waiting for science to catch up.

These issues are culturally complicated because of unspoken rules about what is legitimate in science and what isn’t. Many of the experiences that people relate where the mind does not stay put in its box are often labeled as unscientific, if not illusions, hoaxes or superstitions. For any number of scientists and philosophers so-called out-of-body experiences (such as the now famous reports of a near-death experience) are considered off-limits, with automatic denigration of research that might validate them. Indeed, this is part of what makes the field of consciousness studies so controversial in the first place – it flouts some of science’s iron-clad assumptions.

Other, more common experiences, however, are not off-limits. Such diverse things as depression, love, dreaming, and remembering are being “explained” by examining brain activity through new forms of brain imaging. Even some uncommon, very exceptional experiences are also permitted for study: the feeling of “being in the zone” reported by high-performance athletes, for example. But no one argues that the study of this experience is unscientific or based on magical thinking just because it only happens in highly trained athletes. Similarly, when the mind doesn’t stay put in its box, this deserves to be investigated if only because, to begin with, everything human is worth investigating.

One final interesting fact, for now, to help us think outside the box: It relates to the electrical activity of the heart. It’s true that the pacemaker cells of the heart are modulated by the brain. Yet as doctors know, some patients with little brain function can still have reliable heartbeats. The pacemaker cells of the heart, in its conduction system, are the heart’s own little brain, as we’ve already discussed. Your heart, being an electrical organ, also creates an electromagnetic field – the strongest of any tissue in the body – and its pattern of beats is responsive to other electromagnetic fields, even those outside the body. Here’s the fascinatingly evocative part: the strength of the field created by one heart appears to be strong enough to influence another person’s heart when they draw near to each other. Then the nervous systems of these two hearts perceive and respond to each other. Does love have its own physiology, shared by two “thinking” hearts?

So, where does the mind come from? Just from your brain or across the wider landscape of the brain-body complex? Even that expanded definition of mind must expand further; for the body is just another box that thinking is eager to go beyond, as when two lovers match their heartbeats. A loving parent consoling a child with a hug or a spouse sleeping soundly next to you night after night, year after year, is expanding the mind.

We hope we have begun to break down the walls around your own thinking so that you can imagine other cogent and, yes, scientific possibilities for explaining the nature of mind other than simply the brain as a computer doing what computers do. In Part Three we will discuss situations where people have repeatedly described their minds going outside the box of their skulls – and even beyond their skins – using examples from deep meditation and elsewhere that science should explore with fresh eyes and not consign to some unscientific Siberia.

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium 

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 3)

TransitionClick here to read Part 2!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

Thinking outside the box has become such a cliché that it tends to be meaningless. Advertisers want to convince us that eating granola instead of Wheaties or buying skinny jeans or switching to an electric razor is thinking outside the box. What’s actually radical is to see that we are thinking outside the box in every moment, if the box in question is the skull.

In the first post of this series we offered abundant research findings to show that “thinking” takes place in the intestinal tract, the heart, and elsewhere in the body. Thus the brain, commonly taken as the undisputed locale of the mind, is scientifically and medically acknowledged to be sharing its powers. More and more it looks as if every organ is the locale of its own version of mind.

The ongoing discovery of self-contained networks of nerves in various organs is backed up by finding the ganglion cells that act like their own local brain support. In sum, there’s high-level nervous system activity distributed throughout the body, some of it feeding into the brain’s networks, some of it receiving outputs from the brain, and some of it functioning quite well without the brain at all.

Thinking is happening, in some guise or other, everywhere in your body all the time. This emerging view has the potential to rock our accepted understanding of mind itself. The brain looks more and more like an outcropping in a landscape that is permeated with varied forms of intelligence. Let’s explore the implications of this new model.

To begin, the immune system has been labeled a “floating brain.” In a very tangible way, your immune cells “decide” whether an invading substance is friend or foe, and if they decide wrong, you develop an allergy to harmless things – house dust, pollen, cat dander – that pose no danger and never needed to be repelled. Ask any allergy sufferer whether their allergy affects their thinking. The dullness, lack of energy, and depleted enthusiasm that many allergy sufferers experience leaves little doubt about how the immune system is part of a larger structure.

In the old model, nerves were like the wiring that brings electricity to every part of a house. But it’s not just the “wiring” of nerves that links brain to body. Hormones produced by all sorts of organs affect the way the brain works and how you experience your mind. Consider the mood changes experienced by many women around their menstrual period and menopause. Many mental events are triggered in similar ways. Ever feel sleepy after you’ve had too much birthday cake? Ever feel addled after you’re thrown accidentally from your bike? Hormones (such as estrogen, insulin, and cortisol) produced in response to internal and external factors, travel to the brain via the bloodstream, and then have profound effects on the nature of “your mind.” It’s not only the brain, then, that is creating your mind.

Looking at the brain itself reveals greater complexity to the mind-brain relationship. While people generally think of neurons as the particular brain cells that produce the mind (acting together in almost infinitely complex networks), there are other cells in the brain without which the neurons could not do their jobs – the glial cells, for example, which outnumber neurons and serve many essential tasks: conveying nutrients and oxygen to neurons, creating the myelin sheathes around the long axons of neurons to facilitate speedy signal transmission in some areas, stabilizing connections between neurons, cleaning up cellular debris from aging or injured cells. Indeed, while we conventionally think of glial cells as the servants of neurons, the truth is that neuroscience still knows very little about all the roles they play.

These cells themselves are not necessarily “of the brain.” Neurons mostly (though not always) derive from other resident cells, such as stem cells, in the brain, but some neurons and many glial cells arrive in the brain via the circulatory system – they are like nomads who eventually find a place to live permanently. Questions abound about how much this happens, by what mechanism for each cell type, and in which different regions of the brain it is taking place. All these questions are still being debated. (The production of some brain cells might happen by circulating stem cells that directly become neurons and glial cells, or by fusing with pre-existing cells.) It’s clear, however, that cells are trafficking between the body and the brain all the time.

To be continued!

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium 

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box, Part 1

Dzogchen
photo: h.koppdelaney
 Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH),Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York

When someone asks, “Where is the mind located?” most people will automatically point to their heads. Why? Is it because we experience our thoughts in our heads? That seems the case most of the time, though when dreaming, one could argue that it gets a bit more ambiguous since we feel that we are “inside” our dreams. But for most of us, most of the time, “my head” is where “my mind” is located.

However, this may simply be because so many sense organs are located there: eyes, ears, nose, tongue. With so much information flowing into one part of the body, it might merely be habit that gives us the sense that the mind is in our head. (For example, you feel your ears sitting on either side of your face, but when a car backfires behind you, the sound can’t be felt entering the ear canal, being processed in the inner ear and then in the brain’s auditory center. Quite clearly the sound of the car comes from behind you. One could say, conversely, that hearing shoots out from the head into the world. This in fact was the view of some ancient cultures. We casually use this model for vision when we say that someone “shoots a glance” at someone else.)

Babies, we are told, have a much more diffuse experience of the senses, perhaps mixing them up in what are called synesthesias (e.g. experiencing sounds as colors or tastes as shapes, an experience reported from hallucinogenic drugs and in deep meditative states). Some researchers contend that babies have a poor sense of the boundary between themselves and the world. But infants turn into toddlers, and the separation between self and other starts to harden, as does the habitual experience that “my head is where I think.” Society and family reinforce this habit as the toddler grows up, and eventually the mind takes its seat in our heads, or so it seems.

This dovetails nicely with another cultural consensus that our minds are in our brains. Mind and brain have taken up residence together in a box called the skull. In this series of posts, however, we ask that you set aside your habits and assumptions to consider quite literally “thinking outside the box,” a process that goes on outside the skull but is still mental. Is the brain actually so closed up in its box that it makes sense to speak of it as though it were a machine for making mind, the way a laser printer makes documents? Is it possible that one could have a fully functioning and thinking brain sitting in a pan on a lab bench as in some 1950’s science fiction movie? (Successful head transplants have been performed in laboratory animals, but since there is no technique for reattaching the spinal cord, the animal was left a quadriplegic. Such procedures are controversial, for obvious ethical and humane reasons.) We should be open to asking some culturally radical questions, including the most radical of all: Is a brain even necessary for “thinking”?

(To be cont.)

***

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium – August 16-18, 2013 at La Costa Resort and Spa.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com

Sense of Self

a being which is whole need have no sense of itself. it need only have an awareness of what is, including what/who is around it.

when it is centered around itself, it becomes lost in an attempt to assure itself of its own validity. when it is centered around reality and life, it is whole, in the knowledge that it needs no reassurance just to be.

tend to life because your being needs nothing of you. let it be at peace and let your life be joyous.

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