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Can The Mind Exist Without The Brain?

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In discussions about the mind and its potential to exist apart from or even after the death of the brain, it is common to call upon near death experiences or out of body experiences as evidence for such. It is my belief that sensory experience is a function of the brain, and that a disembodied mind cannot experience these things. Nonetheless, some see the sensory information the mind has been reported to bring back to the body after so-called "near death" experiences as evidence that the mind unfettered by the body retains its full capacity to experience the world.

In such discussions the mind is invariably described in the most lofty, ethereal terms. Thus, it is frequently held that the "pure consciousness" of mind persists as pure energy, pure light, or pure vibration. I suspect that for those who see the mind itself as energy, light and vibration, it is not so much of a stretch to allow this disembodied mind the ability to experience the "energy" of love, the colors of the universe, and the vibrational qualities of what we on the ground call sound. What I am curious about is whether or not the ability of the disembodied mind to perceive sensory information is restricted to the more ethereal aspects of sensory experience, or if it extends to the more mundane experiences the mind regularly has in the body.

Given that many cultures burn incense to appease the spirits, one can only assume that the disembodied mind retains the ability to sense aromas. However, what about the gustatory sense? Can the disembodied mind appreciate flavor? I suspect that clove, peppermint, cardamom and the other such flavors that themselves have an aromatic, ethereal quality might be more easily tasted by the mind. But let's get down to brass tacks. Can the disembodied mind enjoy a good cheese burger? Ridiculous? Perhaps, but not when you consider that it spends the best part of every single day of its brain-bound life savoring such notions.

Let's extend our thought experiment further to the lesser but no less real modes of sensation. Can the mind that has cast off its mortal coil still experience hunger? Can it experience nausea and vertigo? Can the mind be tickled? Can the mind itch? Is it possible for the disembodied mind to have a toothache? How could the mind have a toothache without a tooth? I suspect it might by the same method it sees without eyes.

One can only hope that the eternal mind can continue to experience orgasm. (If you think those "dry" weekends in college were bad, don't even think about eternity!) However, does the female mind continue to experience menstrual cramps? The even more compelling question is if the male mind, no longer restricted, confined, and defined by a male body, can experience menstrual cramps! If it is a just universe, and I am certain it is, one can only suspect that this would be the case. Indeed, if the mind is the completely detachable command and control center of the brain, and if it is how we perceive all the world and all of ourselves, then, it should certainly be able to separately and on its own experience all of what the brain and body has to offer. However, while it may be easy to see "love, light and vibration" as the objects of an ethereal mind, it is harder to reconcile that same mind experiencing the more ordinary aspects of conscious life without the body to provide the necessary details. As always, God, or the devil, is in those details. In any case, it should be clear that the mind in its entirety is not only dependent on the body, it makes absolutely no sense without it.

A further problem to consider is if the mind is a separate entity that can experience all the experiences the universe can give it, then the mind apart from the brain must have its own inherent capability of perceiving, understanding and assimilating these experiences apart from the body. However, if the mind is where consciousness and awareness lies, then by what means does this mind know itself? Does the mind have yet a higher mind that knows the mind? The writer and philosopher Alan Watts once offered a charming limerick that read:

There once was a man who said though
it seems that I know that I know.
But what I'd like to see
is the I that knows me
when I know that I know that I know.

It is an endless and futile regression. Moreover, I do not see how the notion of a shared, Universal mind, makes this problem any easier than it would be with individual, free floating minds.

I believe resolution to this seemingly insoluble problem is the realization that we are merely "virtual" in our consciousness and sense of self . The experience of ourselves as real and continuous is a grand illusion. Like the pictures in a cartoon that the eye and brain blends together in apparent seamless motion, we are, in fact, discontinuous, processed in parallel, and patched together but in a most utterly compelling fashion.
Our experience of self is like a well staged musical on Broadway, with scenes moving from one to the next without a hint of the multitudes of stagehands going about their business behind the curtain. This is what modern neuroscience tells us, and the puzzling evidence of which every Neurologist sees when one or more of the brain's stagehands of consciousness become injured on the job.

If you turn the pages of a flipbook too slowly, the individual pictures appear, and the illusion of movement is broken. However, over hundreds of millions of years of evolution, the brain has come to work at exactly the right "speed" to allow us the grand illusion of a seamless and continuous existence full of sensations across time and space. We are not perfect and everlasting. We are "virtual" which simply means, our illusion of consciousness is "good enough" to produce this astonishing sense of self in the world. Evolution has provided us a sense of self that is "good enough" that there is absolutely no reason why we can't sit back and enjoy the show!

This view of life, the mind and the universe may be very disheartening for some. Nonetheless, we are still in and of a universe of sacred beauty and complexity. If you fully and utterly let go, you can still call what catches you "God". However, the nature of this "God" may not be such that he can hold you on his knee, take your hand, and lead you into paradise.

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