02/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Mind, The Brain and Being Us

I like stretching the boundaries, going beyond the safe, the mundane, and mediocre. I don't believe we were meant to live quiet, secure, small lives. Of course, this has gotten me into a lot of trouble. In many ways things are rigged so that we don't dare much--we might get hurt, or be disappointed, or laughed at.

There is a balance, though. I only recently understood what it means to have your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground. When I first heard that expression, I had this vision of some sort of elasta-girl, stretched like the illustrations of Alice after she ate from one side of the mushroom. Ungainly, monstrous and unable to navigate, or so it seemed. Now I understand that "head" in the clouds really means mind. Feet on the ground--engaged in the work-a-day world where most of us live and breathe. But mind soaring- dreaming, creating, flying free.

In fact, if we could substitute "mind" for every reference to brain, when it comes to human creativity, I would be much happier. Whoever came up with the idea that we think with our brains? How can thought come out of a piece of meat? Neurobiologist Dr. Michael Gershon of Columbia University has written about the 100 billion nerve cells in the stomach. The stomach has been called a "second brain." The ancient Greeks thought that the soul resided in the stomach.

Is it that we seem to think thoughts in our head, and so modern science picked on the brain? Experiments performed on the brain demonstrate that you can trigger memory by stimulating certain parts of the brain electrically. But does that mean that memory is stored there? No one can explain how this can be. There is not enough brain capacity to store every second of memory in a person's life. I once had a summer job working on a telephone exchange. When you plugged into the switchboard, you heard voices. But the voices were not stored in the switchboard.

I have disagreed with much of mainstream science since I was an undergraduate at Ohio State University. I started college as an English Literature major, and a Religious Studies Minor. Then I took a science class- and fell in love with the subject. When I changed my major to Health Sciences my junior year, a new universe opened up to me. Having access to the medical library at OSU was a joy, in those days before the Internet. I soaked up Anatomy, Physiology and everything related to the functioning of the human body. Science was pure research, right? No preconceptions, no agenda.

Perhaps it was because I came to the Sciences from the perspective of the Humanities that I dared to disagree. How narrow minded and bigoted were my new brethren. Anyone daring to suggest something new or different was pilloried. Even as an undergrad, I could see that Science has actually become a cult. Acceptable scientific information is determined by a few with vested interest and doled out through the popular press. Since the brain doctors came along, science has become the secular religion, just as suppressive as the Inquisitors of old. And heresy still has the iron rule of law to stamp it out.

So fie on the brain doctors, I say. They want to reduce a mother's love for her newborn, the ache of longing for a distant sweetheart, the exultation of viewing a glorious sunrise, the desire for enlightenment and transcendence, to brain chemistry. It is not you-there is no you. There are only genes, and synapses. Can't measure it with modern scientific equipment? Then it doesn't exist. After all, look how advanced we are. Look what science has done for us. Let's look at that for a second.

Science has brought us wonderful technology. I am writing this on my Mac laptop, my cell phone sits next to me and a friend has just sent me a text message. My big screen TV (turned off-can't write with the distraction) is close by. I have a fireplace that lights a cozy gas fire with the flick of a switch, etc.

Where science has failed us, nay betrayed us, is in the area of human relationships--and what it means to be human at all. By attempting to study us like laboratory rats, science has succeeded in reducing us to a bundle of chemicals. So, why not treat every quirk of human behavior as a deviant from some imagined norm, and use chemicals (medication) to control it? If there is no such thing as a human mind or human spirit, then it is no sin to stamp it out.

We have more psychiatric disorders than ever before, more psychiatric patients and incarcerated criminals. We have more terrible weapons, but no better diplomacy; we have more addictions, more divorce, more suicides, more despair. We have Frankenstein food, allowing thousands of people to be over-fed and under-nourished by chemicals that taste good but have no substance, and leave us empty inside.

The brain doctors tell us that those who believe in something intangible, something that cannot be measured by our-oh-so-advanced science, are primitive or infantile--even mentally ill. That is the propaganda of the cult of Science. My truth is that people are, simply, perhaps indefinably, and limitlessly, human. You can thank Heaven, or anything you do believe in, for that.

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