Dr. Jay Lombard. The Mind of God: Neuroscience, Faith, and A Search for the Soul. Harmony Books, 2017. (197 pages)
In sum, I haven’t read a book in a long time of which I had so much appreciation, wonder, and disappointment at the same time.
I will begin by saying this is really a beautiful read. There are several moments when Lombard’s articulation of ourselves and our universe is quite wonderful. In that regard, there is much to appreciate as meaningful and compelling. There are some stories as well (specifically about the woman quite literally being scared to death) that are captivating and provocative.
However, the general logic and argument of the book is frequently disappointing. Lombard struggles to cohere his ideas with one another which leads to many parts that simply ramble on. Ultimately, many of his arguments are only one level deep, and not terribly insightful from a philosophical perspective.
I don’t want to disdain the author, nor discredit his reputation. I’m simply saying that if one is interested in the subject matter, Lombard’s book might be a good introduction to concepts, but a poor substantiation of the overall thesis.
The love of God for His world is revealed through the depths of love that human beings can feel for one another. – Martin Buber
Making the Invisible Visible
We medicalize [problems], but the root cause is often existential, something deeper in origin. In this book, we want to explore what that means. (xvi)
There is no health without mental well-being. … Brain ailments are the number one cause of adult disability worldwide. (xvi)
How about if we reprogram our brains for love and service and other triumphs over misery? How transfor-(xx)mational would this be–the ability to apprehend our selves at the most fundamental, existential, and theological level–for ourselves and the global community?
1: The Mind of God
If we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason–for then we should know the mind of God. – Stephen Hawking
For me, neuroscience isn’t just the study of the brain; it is a tool by which we can make the invisible visible. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his masterpiece The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” (5)
…I want to take you on a cerebral journey–both literal and figurative–into the depths of the mind, to explore the most important questions about life and how neuroscience may help answer them:
- Is there a God?
- Do humans have souls?
- Are we special (Meaning, are humans any different from other animals?)
- Do we have free will–or is all of life predetermined for us?
- What’s the meaning of life, and is there any higher purpose for our existence?
- Since evil exists so prevalently int he world, can there be such a thing as a good God?
- Is there life after death?
While our brains are indeed biological, the experience generated by our brains–our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs–is beyond the observable and measurable. (7)
Even if it were able to map out the precise pattern of brain waves that underlie our subjective states, that mapping would only explain the physical correlate of experience, but it wouldn’t be them. A person’s experiences are as irreducibly real as her brain waves are, and different from them. – Thomas Nagel: Thoughts Are Real, Mind and Cosmos
The Latin roots of the word consciousness mean “to know together”… (7)
I realize the very idea that truth can be found both “within” and “beyond” science can be difficult, if not impossible, for some people to grasp, particularly for us scientists–remember all those fish in the fishbowl. But with science, faith, and a little bit of reasoning, we can press our faces upon the glass and see that there is something beyond, and it’s extraordinary. (8)
Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery we are trying to solve. – Max Planck, “Epilogue: A Socratic Dialogue,” in Where Is Science Going?
The faith I’m talking about…is a faith informed by science, measurability, and logic, not by blindness. This faith asks: What if there were actually very good reasons to believe in the intangible? What is faith? Faith means accepting that there is a greater reality beyond our senses and our intellect. … What if there are very good reasons to hold to and live by the veracity of that which cannot be seen? (9)
It is a book about large faith, this hybrid sort of Mind-of-God-styled scientific faith whereby we seek to understand the meaning of our lives through the portal of neuroscience and what we have discovered about the operations of our own brains. My main reason for writing this book is that I believe humans as a species will be better off with this sort of faith in mind, a faith invigorated and enlightened by science rather than being at odds with it. (10)
So the premise of this book is to help us understand the brain better. By doing so, we can understand the mind better (brain and mind are not the same–more on this later). And by doing this we can muse on and have a conversation about what could lie beyond our mere biology. My hope is to help us appreciate the intangible, which in turn should help us grow closer to each other, respect each other, and ultimately heal each other through embracing faith in our lives. (11)
What I am arguing for is an active faith–not a passive belief in superstition or surface ritual. (11)
The big takeaway of this book is highly practical: a change of heart. Empathy. Altruism. Compassion for others. (11)
Everything is evolving and adapting, but I would hold that our universe was created with intent, an “intrinsic potentiality.” (cf. John Polkinghorne, The Polkinghorne Reader) (12)
How do we find the origins of hopelessness, nihilism, or destructive beliefs to wee them out? The need for faith is so deeply embedded in our biology that even if we don’t identify it, its absence will let itself be known regardless. (13)
Hope: invisible, intangible, sometimes impractical. | It struck me then, for the first time in my medical career, how important the power of faith is to sustaining life–the very potent but invisible forces we cannot measure or quantify, yet which are essential to the very core of our being. (16)
I am more convinced than ever that essential things exist even though they are invisible to the human eye, and this awareness compels us to inquire into what Thomas Moore aptly described as “the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life and culture can be.” (Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul)
Neuroscience offers us a window into the material basis of our immaterial existence. (18)
2: Does God Exist?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? – T.S. Eliot
What if greater realities exist in our universe (or outside our universe) than we can actually understand, comprehend, or measure with only one of our brain’s two hemispheres? In other words, what if God exists but our brains cannot comprehend the sheer magnitude of light, beyond the spectrum of any perceived reality? (26)
[via: This is sounding very “biblical.” We cannot look upon God, lest we be overwhelmed. Moses could only see the “after” of God on Mt. Sinai.]
We meditate and pray with the same side of our brain that we use when we’re kind to other people. (27)
Perhaps we simply imagined God into being. … From a sheer biological perspective, we must ask how our brains had the tools to do this imagining in the first place. (28)
[via: As if God was an “emergent property” of the universe? And, the cover of this book illustrates this point, a depiction of God, encapsulated, if you will, inside a “brain.”]
Only humans can have a belief in God. Why? How did our brains ever have the tools to develop faith in the first place? | The answer to that may well lie in an epistemological exercise I call the neuro-anthropic principle. (28)
The evidence suggests the universe needs us as much as we need it–we co-create our existence through our conscious perception of reality. (29)
The universe and the observer exist as a pair…I do not know any sense in which I could claim that the universe is here in the absence of observers. – Tim Folger, “Does the Universe Exist If We’re Not Looking?”
Certainly it’s a bit of the lone-tree-falling-in-the-forest question (can anybody hear it?), yet what [Andrei Linde] means is that the twinned mediums of universe and mind suggest no coincidence at all. There is a sense, yes, in which our minds are required to bring the universe into existence. (29)
What does it mean when we say things such as that we “co-create our existence”? Or that we “determine our own reality”? It means, simply, that things exist because the (29) mind makes them so. Our perceptions create our circumstances. Our thoughts create our realities. (30)
What evolutionary significance drove nature to shape our brains in such a unique and specialized manner that we developed a concept of God (as well as our ability to deny his existence)? What purpose does belief have, and do we understand enough about our brains today to objectively inquire about not only the facts of human experience but also their meaning? (30)
[via: There was something about this section that resonated with the “Anthropic Principle” and yet was lacking. Suggesting that this works at the level of a child “determining her own reality” by stating she doesn’t like vegetables, did not seem very compelling to me when talking about the cosmos.]
…the neuro-anthropic principle, posits that our minds were designed in such a way as to acknowledge our unique purpose in the universe, to recognize our highest connection to God and to each other. We are born with the capacity to make the invisible visible, to have faith in the intangible. (32)
When does a father become a parent? (33)
…”cradling bias,” the strong universal tendency to hold infants so their gaze directs to the left side of our face (the right hemisphere’s visual field), suggests that emotional qualities such as love, nurturing, and empathy are primarily mediated by the force of (35) the right-hemispheric brain. (36)
…we often see in patients with the conditions of hemineglect. (36)
The point is that if we were merely biological, then we would not have developed empathy for others. We would have no evolutionary reason for “filling in the blanks” and extrapolating the existence of God. | Empathy is arguably the single most important as-(36)pect of larger faith. Since we have empathy, we understand that the universe is not simply about us–and that understanding points to something “beyond” ourselves. …because we are both biological and “beyond biological” we are also interested in the interests of others. (37)
[via: Two things here. First, this argument sounds like C.S. Lewis’s argument on “desire,” that we crave things that exist. We hunger because there is such a thing as food. We thirst because there is such a thing as water. We believe in something “beyond” because there is something there. Second, however, is that evolution does offer an explanation through “social evolution,” the idea that cultures and memes that are shared between biological entities can create beauty, delight, and empathy.]
Mirror neurons are nature’s way of giving every person the ability to take “meta-physical selfies.” (38)
When groups of specialized neurons in our brains are activated by our experience of another’s emotional (39) state, we are in a sense embodying the other person. (40)
Remember, there’s nothing within a strict evolutionary framework that should produce compassion within people. (40)
[via: Again, Lombard seems to not grasp social evolutionary concepts. As a result, this is slipping into a “God of the gaps” explanation.]
It’s because “God” is compassionate, and our brains mirror neurons went to work and mirrored this same feeling. We feel compassion today because God first is compassionate. (40)
[via: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)]
The appearance of the web of the universe bears an uncanny–almost a spooky–resemblance to a cross section of the brain’s anatomy, packed as it is with networks of stars resembling neurons and galaxies as extending dendrites and synaptic junctions designed for connectivity, communication of information, interrelationships, and of course, consciousness. (42)
My aha moment was this: Our brains are constructed in such a way that they give us an image of the Mind of God. We can divine from the remarkably parallel structures of the universe and the human brain a message about relationships of being-as-bonding, not of partition, not alienation, segregation, or isolation. Theory of mind and the inherent capacity of our brains to experience empathy are the cornerstones for our belief in God. Empathy is essential to establish connectivity within us and between us. It’s at the nexus of this engagement where we are apt to also discover the Mind of God. (42)
[via: “Pattern recognition” is not the same as intentional correlation / correspondence. I found this to be weak.]
We can acknowledge God by understanding that there’s an existence outside our material being. (43)
[via: But to date, what credible evidence has been shown for this argument?]
God exists when we “act as if” he exists. We live in an inescapable subjective reality. (44)
[via: Does this make God an “emergent property” of the universe?]
Our brains are particularly apt at filling in the blanks of experience formed from partial sensory input. Without that facility, we would never have discovered anything, invented anything, or evolved into anything. (44)
3: The Neuroscience of the Soul
…the literal immaterial part of a person that contains spark, life, feelings, thoughts, and “mind.” (46)
[via: this is a really key definition]
Neuroscience can also show that our belief in the existence of our soul is essential to our being. … One might even say that evolution’s highest goal is the belief in the soul, for that belief not only provides the foundation for our inquiry into the meaning and purpose of our existence; it informs our actions and provides our life with its highest moral dimensions. (48)
The soul at the simplest level is an extension of the body’s striving for connectivity. (48)
Religious beliefs seek to generate predictions that reduce uncertainty. They create models of reality and models of behavior. (57)
How do we actually know if what we believe is real? Based upon the representational nature of reality, what we believe becomes our truth. The mind can only know its own version of events. | The kicker is that the constructs or patterns that our brain has generated don’t necessarily have to be truthful ones. (57)
Beliefs are so powerful that they can shatter our reality and replace it with an alternative one. …it’s not all in our head; our beliefs in turn powerfully affect our body. (59)
…we can now visualize the Spirit to which Newton referred: the dynamic forces that move the energies of the brain and that in turn direct our limbs and organs and the rest of our body. (60)
In order to understand how our perceptions or beliefs interact with the physical structure of our brain, we must understand how our mind/soul functions as a hologram. (60)
What the hologram analogy tells us is that the mind doesn’t occupy a clearly delineated physical space within the brain’s hardware. It is non-localized, with all the separate streams of thought inextricably linked to other clusters of recalled experiences and to the whole. This flies in the face of conventional thinking in neurology, where we generally associate function with specific delineated areas of the brain. But the hologram example tells us that whereas the brain is physical, the experience that it embodies–its virtual or representational reality–is immaterial. It’s as if the hologram enables a transmutation of sorts in which the invisible forces of the mind and the soul are made manifest through the vast anatomical network of neurons and synapses. The hologram connects mind and brain by providing the nexus between the material and immaterial, between the physical and the metaphysical. (63)
The soul, then, is our connection with God, our conduit to a deeper reality that is otherwise unknown to us. Believing in the soul means believing that there is an immaterial drive analogous to the material drive (that is, to the brain and mind’s drive) for connection that is deeply embedded within our makeup. That there are parallel forces of energy, if you will. (65)
In the Hebrew language the word sin also means “to diminish”;… (67)
[via: The Hebrew word חטא means “to miss the mark,” “fall short,” “commit a wrongdoing,” or even to “cleanse” and/or “purify” oneself. I could not find confirmation of the meaning “diminish” in my Bible study notes.]
…we can re-establish this connectivity when we elevate our existence beyond its physical contours. … The purpose of the brain/mind’s creation of belief is to endow us with trust, the predictability of experience, and the cohesion of relationships. It is the foundation of our connectivity within and among ourselves, the capacity to act in a world where reality is otherwise regarded as purely subjective. (67)
4: The Evolution of Faith and Reason
The limits of language mean the limits of my world. – Ludwig Wittgenstein
By creating symbols, the mind comprehends what is in itself incomprehensible; thus in symbol and adage, the illimitable God reveals Himself to the human mind. – Martin Buber
If we humans fall solely into the evolutionary camp and are seen only as animals, then we don’t live up to our full potential. …if we don’t fully understand what makes us special, then we risk the commodification of our own humanity. (72)
What advantage is it for highly advanced nonaquatic primates to have a mind at all? From a purely evolutionary and survivalist perspective, we humans would have been better served if we’d turned out as mindless automatons. There would be no war or conflict, no ideology to believe in or to disagree about. Survival possibilities would have surely increased without a mind. (73)
[via: A) Would they really? B) I don’t believe he is stating the evolutionary ethic/force correctly. It’s not “possibilities” but rather mutations that are favorable to survival. The way he states this makes it sound as if evolution produces a myriad of survival possibilities intentionally.]
So we must conclude one of two things: either evolution has a goal, which implies agency, or evolution is directionless. And even if we say that there is no self-organizing principle, no agency or direction, other than natural selection, then we still must contend that the creation of mind, the power and will to create de novo, its miraculous emergence and agency, is synonymous with purpose. (73)
[via: Yes, but, it has an evolutionary function, yes? And, is not “purpose” a mere illusion, as he alludes to in other aspects of this book?]
We literally can create and destroy the world within and the world beyond ourselves with the words we choose. (74)
We don’t simply use language. We are language. (75)
…what is the connection between epigenetics–the interpretive capacity of DNA–and the evolution of human language? It is the uniquely human possibility to transcend what appears fixed and immutable into alternative realities of meaning and being. (76)
Minds change through language, as does culture and our deepest held beliefs. (77)
The defining characteristic of the mystical, religious, and wondrous encounter is its sheer ineffability. (79)
Through language, we hold the levers of creation. By virtue of being able to decode the symbolic we become aware of the fundamental tools of creation–a window into the machinations of the world and the Mind of God. (83)
…linguistic-based attribution–that all levels of reality are constructed in some symbolic form or another. Letters in both the biological and spiritual realms of our existence can transform, alter, and change the fate of life like no other tool. (83)
…autonoetic knowing, the brain’s ability to create its own stories. (84)
The world is giving to the human beings who perceive it, and the life of man is itself a giving and receiving. … Thus, the whole history of the world–the hidden, real world history–is a dialogue between God and his creature. – Martin Buber
And it’s through this dialogue that we may discover that love is the language of God. (85)
5: What’s the Meaning of Life?
God is the question to which our lives are an answer. – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
What does purpose mean? (87)
In science, chaos refers to that which is unpredictable and erratic. (87)
Life is dependent on counterbalancing entropy with purpose and order. (89)
Apoptosis is a cell-death program inherent in every cell in our bodies, including our brains. From the very beginning of life, the disintegrating elements of this death drive are paradoxically and immanently active. Biologically, DNA contains within it the core messages of pre-programmed self-destructive tendencies. (96)
Even in the field of psychiatry, severe emotional distress and hopelessness may trigger latent cell death pathways. (97)
The cells that are chosen to die are those that have failed to establish meaningful connections; their detachment, a form of miscarried relationship, causes them to lose their purpose. It’s as if the brain concludes that life isn’t worth living: ultimately, these harmful messages get communicated to the genetic and biological machinery in tandem, resulting in a disconnect in vital pathways. (97)
Human anxiety results from a fear of separation, when our brains are divorced from purpose and filled instead with nihilism. (97)
Neuroscience confirms that our brains seek purpose through our relationships. … I’ll repeat my point: purpose is not something we humans simply dreamed up–it’s coded within our very DNA! (98)
The biology is fact: What a person thinks, he becomes. If a person continually thinks harmful thoughts, if a person immerses himself in unchecked and prolonged rage, or isolation, or any state of disconnection, then he can literally trigger harmful apoptosis and kill off his brain cells. Conversely, the more a person exposes his brain to positive material, the more positively he will act. A brain can be damaged, and a brain can be helped. Empathy, relationships, being altruistic, showing compassion, and living a heartfelt existence all promote brain regeneration. (99)
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, more commonly known as broken-heart syndrome. In broken-heart syndrome, the common denominator is often a sharp spike in adrenaline-type hormones after emotional trauma or severe stress. (100)
It’s not love that hurts; it’s our disconnection from it that causes our suffering. (103)
We humans do have a choice. We can act in the midst of these challenges. We can instill order and meaning through deliberate, benevolent relationships. We have the capacity to act, to lay the foundation of love in all our interactions, engagements, and moral decisions. This is the ultimate (104) meaning of our lives; at the nexus of both internal and external opposing forces, we both discern and shape our destiny. We were created to transform the material world, to bring order to an otherwise seemingly random and capricious existence, and to shape our lives by instilling our godly nature in the acts we perform. | This is our purpose: to discern and create a deep unity between ourselves and our Creator. (105)
6: Are We Free?
…the pure determinism viewpoint…would claim that our essence came before our existence. (108)
Specific to this study, the essence of humanity is that humans were purposed to be humans. There’s a blueprint for humanity encoded in our DNA, (109) and all humans are built according to this same basic blueprint. (110)
I contend we must hold to both predeterminism and free will. The magic of human evolution was that we started with a template; we started with intent and predeterminism. A divine spark created man from the dust of the earth, and then God breathed a soul into man. (111)
We are predetermined, yet we are also free. We are predetermined in terms of our biology, mostly. But we are free in terms of our consciousness, mostly. (111)
Think of it instead as a paradox,… (111)
[via: I’d be curious if Lombard subscribes to Cartesian dualism? It feels as if this particular philosophical view can only be substantiated upon Cartesian dualism.]
We can view the paradox of free will versus predetermination as more of a “puzzle” and less of a “contradiction.” (112)
- So we are free. Yet we are not free to do whatever we wish.
- WE are free to truly help the world.
- And that is true freedom.
In such a deterministic universe based on cause and effect, we can regard reality as synonymous with predictability. “What dos determinism profess?” asks philosopher William James. “It professes that…the future has no ambiguous possibilities bidden in tis womb; the part we call the present is compatible with only one totality. Any other future complement than the one fixed from eternity is impossible.” (115)
Biological evolution transcends itself in providing the material basis, the human brain, for self-conscious beginings whose very nature is to seek for hope, to inquire for meaning, in the quest of love, truth and beauty – Sir John Eccles, Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self
[via: On page 119, Lombard discusses “irreducible complexity.” Rather than explain my rebuttal, I’ll simply show you what I wrote in the margins…]
But there is one singular example in evolution that is irreducibly complex, and that is human consciousness. … If we damage, remove, or repress a part of consciousness, then the whole ceases to function in a normal, integrated way. (120)
[via: While Lombard does recognize Richard Dawkins’ rebuttal, he seems to miss the crux of the argument of “irreducible complexity” (IR), and why it has been shown to be an invalid thesis. His usage of this for “human consciousness,” therefore, is unsubstantiated, especially given that there are multiple levels or expression of consciousness (admitting we still don’t know what consciousness actually is). In some ways, this reference undermines the entirety of the book. This is not an argument. This is conjecture. Ugh.]
But there is one singular example in evolution that is re
7: Do Good and Evil Actually Exist?
Dissociation essentially follows this same logic of biochemistry following psychology, though it works at the extreme edge of the continuum. The body chases hard what the brain believes. (141)
[via: “The Body Behaves what the Brain Believes.”]
I would like to suggest something else, namely separation. (142)
Dissociation is the brain’s way of removing itself from a traumatic experience. (142)
We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and along those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run a causes, and they come back to us as effects. – Henry Melvill
Physics has shown that all of the universe is entangled. (149)
We should assume that not only what we do but also who we are and what we think will reverberate through others and have an effect on their thoughts, feelings, and actions as well. This is, I believe, what is meant by karma, and we are now more apt to understand it by measuring the effects our actions have on others, not only behaviorally but physiologically, too. (152)
While these studies, when examined in their totality, have been inconclusive, we have learned something very important about the effects of prayer on health. Many of the principle investigators of research studies involving the influence of prayer on those suffering a specific medical illness have concluded that intentionality can facilitate healing at a distance. While no strictly material explanation can account for the effects of prayer, the data seem to indicate our intrinsic connectivity and the agency of relationship. Whether we attribute the effects of these connections to God or to some natural force, prayer clearly exerts some measurable energy that is felt in the biological world. (152)
When Moses asked God to reveal his name, God simply said, “I AM that I AM.” There is a Hebrew translation that is interpreted to mean “As you are with me, so I am with you.”
[via: אהיה אשר אהיה]
8: Immortality: The Remembrance of What Is
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T. S. Eliot
…a life which disappears once and for all, … like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing. – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The brain is a time capsule. History resides in its structure. – Julian Barbour
Thus, memory, time, and history are all closely intertwined. Memory can only exist within time. Time gives structure to memory, much the same way our body gives structure to our thoughts and to our soul. Time is past, present, or future–something happened, is happening, or will happen, and events always occur in some chronological fashion. Yet the notion that time is a process that flows directionally may be an illusion designed within our brains. (160)
While consciousness is seemingly destroyed in death, it is similarly obscured by sleep. (162)
All of this is to stay that we are much more than our physical bodies and what we can measure. It is the heart at the center of the universe, our emotions, which bonds us not only to ourselves but also to the universe at large, not only in this life but also in the life of the world to come. (164)
[via: I actually very much like this quote from page 164, and find it beautiful, and a really meaningful quote. It is simply scientifically unsustainable as emotions are also physical phenomena.]
And in considering those moments in the cemetery I find myself coming back to the premise of this chapter–and indeed, the premise of this entire book: “What is essential is invisible to the human eye.” Death means the physical loss of a human, but it doesn’t mean the being that is part of that “human being” dies. My experience in the graveyard awakened me to this truth. My father had not stopped existing. Sure, his body had died, but the totality of himself–that was not gone. | Of that, I, a man of science and a man who struggles with faith, am convinced. (168)
Memory is ego, and without ego there is no I. So in the absence of memory, ego vanishes as well. (171)
Memes are the pollen of human thought;… (177)
The memes of memory are a form of neurological propaganda–the legacy of sentinel experience that, once rooted, can kindle and spread through technologically based vectors such as social media. Great figures of history are immortalized in our brains as memes–these lives are, as Don DeLillo has written, “dead stars that still shine because their light is trapped in time.” (177)
This is how memory leads to redemption: We exist because of God, and he exists in tangible ways through us. If we can envision the Mind of God–that our existence is contained within the thought of a transcendent being–then we can have assurance that we will continue to live through him. (179)
God knits us human beings together in love. It is a memory that goes back to the creation of the universe. | And it is in love that we live forever. (179)