The brain driver!
In the Question and Answer session featured on this page last week was the issue of people who are mentally challenged. It was one of the questions I treated. In my further contemplation of the subject, I recalled a contribution to a publication in which what drives the brain was discussed by a professor though it did not touch on mental affliction that much beyond describing it as loss of psychic self-activation. The fascinating article by Professor Dieter Malchow was on whether or not it is the brain that decides for us as human beings.
Editor of the publication in his introduction says: “When we think that we are making a conscious decision, the decision was already made long before hand. Some neuroscientists conclude that the brain decides for us…” Prof. Malchow makes references to P. Haggard/M.Eimer: ‘On relation between brain potentials and the awareness of voluntary movements’; Chun Siong Soen: ‘Unconscious determinants of free decisions in human brain, Nature Neuroscience’; and Dr. Raymond A. Moody: ‘Life after life.’
Mankind is living in unique times, indeed, the proverbial End-Time with pressure of influences a great many are hardly aware of even though they are afflicted by attendant perplexities practically on a daily basis. The world has just witnessed a devastating earthquake in Turkey spreading to Syria, hurricane in California over which Joe Biden declared an emergency and unrelenting protests in Israel.
Following is an excerpt from Prof. Malchow’s article published in 2010:
“Deciding consciously is an everyday experience for us humans. We can hardly imagine that the vast majority of transactions that are important in our life proceed unconsciously in the brain, thus that the conscious represents, figuratively speaking, only the tip of the iceberg. And yet it is so. The regulation of body functions such as breathing, sleeping, waking, body temperature, heartbeat, digestion, and so on, are unconscious processes. The same applies to most of the data processing that goes into sensory perception. In vision, for example, each image falling on the retina is broken into mosaics in the brain. The first area in cerebral cortex, called ‘V1’, determines the contours, edges and lines. If ‘V1’ is destroyed, the affected individual is blind. The second area, ‘V2’, recognises larger patterns, for example, forms, which are in reality non-existent, such as the well-known ‘Kanisza triangle’. Towards the top of the hierarchy of visual processing in the brain are areas for the presentation of dynamic form (‘V3’), colour (‘V4’) and motion (‘V5’). A test for shape perception may show impairment in some people. These patients cannot even recognise and allocate even simple forms correctly. If the connection to these higher is destroyed but ‘V1’ is intact, the person can draw the lines of a building exactly, but he longer knows what it represents. Such a person is for example aware of the lines as they are shown in the drawing, he can see them, but they make no sense to him; he cannot put them in any context.
“The higher areas are thus used for understanding what we see. There are also places in the cerebrum for analysis of objects, buildings and faces. Only after these processing operations does the visual information get to the so-called association areas, where the perceptions from different sensory channels, such as hearing, seeing and feeling, interact. It has not yet been possible to investigate whether the original picture is reassembled here or elsewhere. Nor, above all, do we know who looks at this picture that we have in our mind’s eye. Is there a homunculus located in the brain? Or is the viewer the real human ‘self’?
“The example of the processing of visual impressions shows what feats the brain achieves in the representation of the outside world. An ‘external world’, which appears to be very real, but in reality is computed in a sophisticated manner by the brain—unnoticed by us—from the data obtained by the sensory organs. We only become aware of the final result of this process—probably when the information emerges in the described association areas of the brain. Conscious processes are thus by comparison slow, needing time to develop. Therefore, everything that must proceed fast takes place unconsciously, such as for example, the return service of a tennis ball or an ‘involuntary’ reaction in road traffic when trying to avoid an accident. Knowing the importance of unconscious processes raises the exciting question: Does the brain really decide for us and hence is there no free will? Or does the so–called ‘unconscious’, from which the decisions emanate, have a deeper, yet unidentified relevance in our being?
“The animal acts in accordance with its instincts and on the basis of what it has learned. Only the human being has a free will. That was at least until recently the unanimous view. The freedom of decision brings as a consequence responsibility for all actions. We cannot hold animals liable, but humans, yes. This is an important basis for our self-conception. By virtue of the question whether and to what extent we are responsible for our actions it is important to know whether we actually have a free will –although the term ‘free’ here does not mean absolute freedom, but the possibility of being able to decide anew in every situation, even if the current way of life may already suggest a fixed choice.
“Some time ago, about 38 years ago, the American physiologist Benjamin Libet (1916-2007) tried to prove this free will with the help of a scientific experiment. Volunteers had to note the time when they felt the urge to lift their hands. This time was recorded as the moment of volitional impulse. At the same time the brain waves (the so-called readiness potential) preparing the movement of the hand were measured. It was surprising that the brain waves preceded the test subjects consciously making their decision to execute the gesture. The brain was preparing the hand movement 300 milliseconds before the volunteer became conscious of his decision to lift the hand. The results of the ‘Libet experiment’ was hotly debated, because how can we speak of a free will if the brain reacts before we make a conscious decision? Critics objected that there was no choice open to the subjects in this experiment—except with regard to time.
“Many years later, the neurophysiologist Patrick Haggard and the psychologist Martin Eimer took this objection on board in another experiment. Their test subjects could now choose with the right hand or the left hand to press a button. The measurement of the brain waves was also improved. It was now possible to recognise the intention of the participants—whether they decided in favour of the left or right hand. The result of the new experiment corresponded to that of Benjamin Libet: the brain already reacted before the conscious volition; the brain waves rose beforehand on the side opposite the selected hand, making predictable the decision which hand test subject would move. This suggests two conclusions: either the brain decides for us and free will is only an illusion—or the so-called ‘unconscious’ leads us to a deeper dimension of our being. The thesis from these experiments that the brain decides for us and the personal free will is obsolete sparked vehement protest among art scholars and lawyers that has persisted to this day. John Searle, a renowned American philosopher, pointed out that we cannot think away our freedom. In choosing a meal at a restaurant it is practically impossible to say to the waiter: ‘Look I am a determinist, I’ll just wait and see what I order. Que sera, sera.’ Searle concluded from this humorous example that the refusal to exercise free will is itself only intelligible to the person if it is conceived as an exercise of free will: ‘I do not want to decide’—this resolve can itself only be regarded as a free decision.
“Do the unconscious processes represent the self? The self or ego of man could initially make itself felt via unconscious information pathways. Let us examine more closely what takes place in the brain when a conscious decision is taken. Obviously every conscious action, simple as it may occur to us in everyday life, is accompanied by complex biological processes in the brain that allow us to comprehend it as carried out by ourselves. Before an action, the brain works out a detailed plan of which areas are to be activated in carrying it out. After the action the brain receives a feedback from the body on the completed activity, which is then antedated. For it is only if the action follows the decision immediately will we regard something as willed and carried out by us. There are patients in whom no feedback occurs. These regard their actions not carried out by themselves, they feel other-directed. The brain therefore plans and prepares actions, even before we are aware of anything. This ‘rush ahead’ by the brain can be easily seen with tickling. If you tickle yourself, nothing happens, because with the unconscious decision to tickle yourself the body has already been forewarned and cannot be surprised. Therefore, we can only be tickled by another person.
“New findings in brain research have shown that there are regions in the brain, which, when decisions are made and plans are worked out, become active much earlier than that region Libet had observed in his experiment. It was found that they engaged in activity before the test subjects consciously made the decision to press the button with the left or right hand. Although the fore brain is quite known for conscious processes, all these activations manifest before we are conscious of a decision. Let us return to our original question: does the brain decide for us and is freewill an illusion? Or is there a free will, to start with, is expressed through the so-called ‘unconscious?’
“In the first case, we together with our background, origin, and everything that has shaped us would be determined by the wiring of our brain, all steps and actions causally determined. If this were so, we would have no free will, but also no responsibility. This idea, however, ignores the reality. We experience in most cases people who need to use their will, in order to learn, for example, an occupation and progress in it.
Weak willed people suffer frequently from consequences of this weakness, bringing along discontent and misery. Often they are dependent on the help of others. Patients who suffer from ‘PAP syndrome (loss of self-activation’) lack of inner drive and therewith will. They spend their time, for example, counting the lines on the ceiling or turn appliances on and off incessantly. Only by telling or commanding them are they able to get up and do something meaningful. If the address stops, they immediately relapse into silence and apathy. If asked what they are thinking they reply: ‘nothing!’—and they describe their inner state as empty. They feel neither sorrow nor joy. Such extreme examples illustrate that as an expression of our will, our inner motivation is connected directly or indirectly with emotional processing, and that we need our will to live. It is part of our being human. This makes the second alternative more likely to be the conclusion from findings of brain research: there is a free will, though this is initially expressed through unconscious processes in the brain. But where is the seat of this free will of man, which has to account for its decisions?
“The brain itself as an organ of the body cannot take on responsibility. The bearer of the will must logically be a person. Do we meet here the human ego which has by its very nature a different consistency and expresses itself physically initially through unconscious processes? That this reasoning may be correct is shown by accounts of near-death experiences. An extensive literature confirms that due to lack of blood circulation in heart failure or accidents, but also by artificial stimulation of the brain, a conscious state occurs outside the body, in which the affected individuals are looking down on their lifeless bodies. They experience a new state that is characterized by weightlessness, the ability to reach through objects and persons, an inability to make themselves felt, but also by being able to describe the resuscitation attempts exactly and also make decisions. These accounts show that we can free ourselves from the body; we are then left with a finer, lighter figure, which can be called soul. In His Work, ‘In the Light of Truth’ Abd-ru-shin explains that the soul obtains connection with the body through the solar plexus. The soul incorporates our inner-most core of being, and it is this which expresses its will and makes decisions. In the process, first the solar plexus is activated and subsequently the brain. Since the soul is not identical to the body, there is a mechanism which ensures that the soul becomes conscious of events in the physical world through the brain, and another by which we regard our action as carried out by ourselves. Neuroscience grants insights into these mechanisms. The experiments show two things: that what we are conscious of is prepared and accompanied by unconscious processes and that free will cannot be fixed in the brain itself. But the experiments express nothing about the real origin of the impulses to make a decision.
“The free will arises from our innermost core of being, which is not in the brain, but in the soul. We perceive this core as ‘inner voice’, by our ‘gut feeling’, by the urge to act in a certain way. If we yield to this urge aright, the result is a feeling of happiness; our mood is uplifted, increasing our well-being. All characteristics are evidence of the presence of the soul in the body. The soul perceives itself intuitive perception. The afore-mentioned limbic system is in contact with the solar plexus. Everything experienced personally stirs the soul.
The limbic system functions as information carrier to and from the brain. If the connection to the limbic system is disturbed, as in the case of the ‘PAP syndrome’, the emotional impulses cannot be perceived. That the unconscious responds in advance of the conscious is nothing unnatural or mystical but simply an expression of our ego or self, our inner core of being in a finer, lighter figure: the soul. The soul is only mysterious because it eludes measurement. From person to person, however, the soul manifests itself without further ado—through radiation, the expression of the eyes, the posture or the voice. The idea that the self is identical with the brain is based on the experience that the brain is where thought is produced, and emotional stirrings can be suppressed with the intellect. If we unite the findings of the new experiments in neuroscience with the analysis of near- death experiences, it is clear that it is not the brain that decides for us. We have a free will. This arises from our innermost core, which lies in the soul. But at the start it expresses itself unconsciously –as does true love.”