The unremarkable and mushy mass of gray matter protected by the cranium, the continuing subject of endless fascination for theology and science and fiction and crime has been the centerpiece of philosophical rumination since perhaps the birth of language.
How the brain really works is still unknown. Its anatomy and physiology are known, its various regions of activity are well documented but the magic that makes living feasible continues to hover on the boundary between the normal and the paranormal. The philosophers call it the mind-body problem. Is the brain, the piece of flesh floating underneath the skull, the same as the mind? The theologians are deeply hesitant to call it the soul, akin to the romantics’ resistance to see thinking and feeling as one and the same and their desire to separate the brain from the heart. The mind and the soul are the essence of metaphysics, just as the brain is of physics.
Elementary self-reflection connects the brain to the sensory organs that enable sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, as if the head carries in it all of existence through the lens of perception. Recorders can document the flashes of electricity that traverse across the entire body, primarily to understand the health of the brain and the heart. The physics of human anatomy and the mechanics of the functioning of it is now better known then ever before, in particular since Gray. What is not known is why is it that we cannot still understand what the mind is and what the soul is.
Physics is crucial. The connections of nerves, that descend from the gray to the white along the spine and network like a forest of tangled wires to everything that makes us tick every day, transmit information at the speed of light to both allow the involuntary body functions and the voluntary actions. They all recycle back to the head for the brain to process actions, including emotions, through perception: from agony to ecstasy and everything in between, all of it to perpetuate the survival of the organism toward its natural fulfillment.
Birth is as much of a mystery as death is: the biological complexity of the beginning of life ends in the metaphysical complexity of the ending of life. The mechanisms of how a womb protects and incubates the unborn are just as murky to perception as is the question of what remains after the remains and if the two are connected beyond the realm of perception. The brain and the head it is contained in are unable to provide those answers yet.
Science may be able to provide these answers if the boundary of inquiry is confined to the material: the brain. The philosophers call this dialectical materialism, the method of all scientific enquiry, political biases notwithstanding. It is necessary to, therefore, begin with the question of death to answer the question of life because death can be autonomously induced, as a voluntary action and the process documented.
When does any living thing die, life being broadly defined in the age of exobiology and deep sea creatures as a self-organizing, autonomously regenerative entity, carbon or non-carbon based? It is now known that death occurs at its smallest level when cells die and can no longer regenerate autonomously and on the systemic scale, when the brain dies (raising the possibility that externally-aided cell regeneration can put off death). Brain death is death.
When the brain is dead, the processing of all perception stops. The mind dies when the living brain stops working. It is the contention of this paper, therefore, that the living brain is the mind. There is no dichotomy between the brain and the mind. There is no mind-body problem.
Perception permits us to feel the imprints of the mind, the vibe of life that was, is and perhaps will be, which are left in the cosmos like footprints in the sand (just as we know that we are being watched even when we are not seeing those watching us) to persist after the material remains and only this can be the soul if only we can access it to manipulate it. Can doing so ever be is a separate question.
Transcendence is a similar feeling of unity with everything that surrounds us, beyond the sense of the material self, while living. This feeling also seems to be the feeling of the divine.