- Is mind a product of brain and body?
- Does consciousness arise magically out of matter?
- Are embryo cells individually intelligent, knowing what to do?
Like these questions above, the study of Embryology gives us some wonderful leading questions to this subject of consciousness. Here are some more:
- What were we actually doing when we were an embryo?
- Who is realizing itself?
- When does this realization occur?
- Are there patterns to consciousness arising that apply generically to all humans?
- How does one exist as an embryo?
Much of modern philosophy on consciousness begins with an adult in its study. Only a few years ago, it was felt that by about 7 years of age, the brain completed its infrastructure development as a hard wired machine that now could be properly filled with knowledge data. Mental illness was typically seen as irreversible because it arose out of ‘bad wiring’. Today plasticity of the brain has been recognized but often this fixed-brain psychology persists in practitioners.
Futurologists such as Ray Kurzweil insist that artificial intelligence (AI) will one day soon be able to ‘reverse engineer’ the brain and thereby endow a computing machine with the ability to think and act like a human being. Ray goes on to claim that with the exponential growth in computing capabilities, that by mid-century (roughly 2050) we will pass a Singularity point after which AI will race along leaving carbon-only humans behind. He states that to survive we will need to become a hybrid person, part carbon-based and part computer (silicon based) and eventually the weaker carbon-based part will disappear. This concept of a hybrid human, oddly, may have some unintended truth to it which I’ll discuss in another offering later. In many ways, we began down this path with the ‘personal computer’. But the intention that we can reverse engineer the brain to build a computer-based mind will fail because it fails to recognize the role of soul in human thinking.
Soul? Is not this an out-dated concept rejected in the 19th century? Indeed, materialism has sent the concept of soul to its death. Only religion, it seems, holds on to the concept to use it for the promise of an afterlife. Now, through an examination of pre-birth, through embryology, we can ask if this materialistic concept makes sense! [BTW, until the 8th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, the human was always thought of as soma, psyche, and pneuma: body, soul, and spirit].
We turn now to embryologist Jaap van der Wal, some of whose work can be found here. One of his [slightly edited quoted] papers show that “an embryo ‘behaves’. It is shaping its body, it moves, it performs (literally). The first manifestation of behavior we exhibit as the psychosomatic body-mind being that we are, is our morphological behavior – that is to say, our body. The gestures we make on the physiological level are also performance, the en-act dimension in us. Going upright, finding the balance, centering: these are acts of the soul, of the human Self or spirit. Before we can do these psychologically, we perform them physiologically at about one year of age, as in, trying to get upright in a playpen. And even that is not the first time. The first time you found your balance was when you shaped and organized the bodily organization as an embryo. The human body is the only primate and mammalian body where the gravity center is organized inside and within the body. To come to yourself as a human being you need the organization for that, i.e., a body (not only a brain) that can do so. This is exactly what you do in the growing and shaping of your body as an embryo: you perform here the act of going upright and balancing in a morphological way.”
“Our body is behavior, human behavior, to be explicit. The body is not a thing, an anatomical substrate; it is a performance, a function, a behavior. Soul does not have a body, it is body; body does not have a soul, it is soul. Even your skeleton and brain (organs that for example are nearly structuralized to death and physical substance) are ‘on the move’, are processes. [Note the mystical numbers: 7, 12, 5, 5, 3]. I learned from embryology, Motion is primary, form is secondary! Form arises out of motion (and not the reverse as reductionistic thinkers always propagate). In that motion a behavior is performed.”
“Within the embryo, form and function are still related and linked together firmly. Bodily and physiological functions are pre-exercised as growth gestures and as growing movements in the embryo. In this respect a human being has already breathed long before he has taken his first breath after birth. The dynamics with which lungs, thorax and diaphragm are developing and unfolding may be considered as a type of breathing because these dynamics are already breathing movements. Considered in this way, an embryo looks, grasps, walks. This can be called morphological behavior.”
Thus, I am a being of soul and body (not body and soul). It is not my muscles that move me, rather, it is my willing activity in my soul directed from my I that moves my limbs. I am integrated with my body for my life on earth but I must not be confused to believe that my body is me or is moving me. Consciousness is primary.
This takes us to more leading questions:
- Does the soul exist before birth? before conception?
- Can consciousness exist without the brain? If so, how is it different?
- Besides our awake consciousness, we know we have three levels of lesser consciousness: dreaming, dreamless sleep, and coma. How many higher levels might there be?
- If consciousness is primary, did evolution arise from it? If so, is the fossil record a story of the sequence of what precipitated out of a consciousnes