06/18/2007 01:04 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Mind Outside the Brain (Part 5)

With the discovery of mirror neurons, another piece of the puzzle was added, the puzzle being how we learn and understand others. Learning occurs in the animal world largely by imitation, it is thought. Recently whale researchers were startled when a group of humpback whales learned a new song form other whales that had intruded into their territory. These were Pacific humpback whales that breed off the east coast of Australia near the Great Barrier Reef. They are separate form the humpback whales who live in the Indian Ocean and breed off the west coast of Australia. Unexpectedly, a few males from the Indian Ocean group wandered into the Pacific group. They brought with them a completely different song, and suddenly, within a matter of months, the Pacific males had adapted that song.

Why and how they did this is unknown. Humpbacks change their songs slowly over vast expanses of ocean. Here the event happened suddenly, perhaps because the Pacific males didn't want to lose their breeding advantage with the females. Yet why didn't the small group of Indian Ocean males adapt instead, seeing how outnumbered they were? Researchers don't know, but they were excited to observe the first example of such rapid learning. Mirror neurons aren't an adequate explanation, because if all the whale brain was doing was mechanical imitation, there would still be some kind of decision process to account for. The two groups somehow cooperated in deciding that one song would be suitable for everyone.

The same mysterious mix of free will and determinism holds elsewhere. It has been observed that when new mothers are away form home, their milk flow will start when the baby at home cries because it is hungry. Shared rhythms exist everywhere in nature. College women living together in dorms are known to have their menstrual cycles begin to synchronize. Whenever there is synchronicity without contact between the two events, only mind outside the brain offers an adequate explanation. The phenomenon of identical twins being in communication is one example. One twin will sense the exact moment when the other is injured or dies, often feeling a mirror image of the trauma in their own bodies. (I personally witnessed one such example: a twin had an abdominal attack in my presence at the moment when the other twin was mugged and stabbed in the stomach in a distant city.)

There are enough open-minded investigators that all kinds of data are accumulating that will fit into a theory of mind outside the brain. But the prevailing paradigm is far from accommodating them. Words like psychic, paranormal, and mystical are basically dismissive. They compartmentalize "real" science from suspect experience. But life is experience, and if a genuine paradigm shift is underway, as we so often hear, Nature is infinitely richer than our explanations of Nature. The acceptance of the mind field as a fundamental level of Nature may be closer than we think, and it will inaugurate an enormous advance in human comprehension of consciousness and therefore of the deeper reality from which we spring.

(to be continued)