“If we turn our contemplation away from our outer world and to the inner one, as the sages advise, a different reality becomes evident. Like light, consciousness has no place, and no shape. It is invisible, yet illuminates everything. It is unimpeded by time and space…While the physiological basis of consciousness is not yet understood, recent evidence indicates that it may depend on electromagnetic vibrations–light, though not in the visible range–involving significant portions of the nervous system.” – Christian Wertenbaker
At the very heart of human life, beyond the rhetoric of all our religions, our sciences, and our philosophies, there exists an elusive and ineffable element, which I prefer to describe as “the human spirit.” Admittedly difficult to quantify, and frequently described by a variety of other names, it consistently alters the equations of life in ways not anticipated by evolution, genetics, or physics. The existence of the human spirit is, for most of us, primarily subjective in nature, through our experience of it within us. The capacity to traverse the gap between what we all have in common and what we can only know subjectively with any certainty, requires a leap that is generally referred to as transcendence.
Regardless of our cultural heritage, our experience or lack of religious training, our economic status, or our individual life experiences, we all share a connection to the essential human subjective experience of existing as a person, which unites us with every other human consciousness, past, present, and to come. It is within the realm of human consciousness where the clearest connection to the human spirit can be found. Even though all our attempts to describe it must inevitably fall short, I believe outward indications of the existence of the spirit are available to us if we both seek them out and look in the right places.
We tend to think of ourselves primarily as physical beings–”bodies moving through space,”–and as any modern physicist will affirm, our bodies are made up of quantum particles or strings, which when brought together in a sufficiently dense conglomeration (and according to the proper architecture) result in the tangible human person who winks back at us as we gaze into the mirror. The spirit which animates our bodies–bodies composed of particles moving through space–does not occupy physical space as we know it, and may be, therefore, not perceptible by ordinary sense perception. Its existence currently can only be “inferred” or detected subjectively through some sense or process, which may not be discernible to us through conventional scientific methodology.
If the nature of life, sentient or otherwise, is reliant upon or supported by some sort of non-physical underpinning in order to exist, however it might be constituted or described, we would have no other means of detecting it, other than through some sort of internal or subjective awareness, since the existence of such underpinnings and their nature would have no relevant reference in the temporal domain. While these two aspects of life, the temporal and the spiritual, could both be absolutely real and substantial in their own way, each according to their nature, they could not be said to be “within us,” in the sense of being in any specific locus, but would have to exist both independently and interdependently, without regard for our ability to comprehend them through conventional means.
Credit: Alfonso Rodríguez-Baeza and Marisa Ortega-Sánchez, 2009
See the whole series of brain images here:
Our ability as human beings to not only pursue the nature of consciousness, but also to produce an image like the one above is nothing short of miraculous in my view. The larger structures at the top of the image are, according to the caption, “…the large blood vessels surround the surface of the brain (top of image), sending thin, dense projections down into the depths of the cortex (bottom of image).” Examining this image gives me a sense of what might be described as a “philosophical view” of how structure manifests in very particular ways, based on the essential nature of life and its necessities.
The connections between our experience of life, our emotions, and changes within the brain are well established, and the chemistry of brain physiology has clear consequences for both the thought process and the physiological responses triggered throughout the body. There is a direct link between thought, emotion, brain activity, and the physiological responses generated by hormones, glands, and specific neurotransmitters which pass through these intricate pathways right down to the tiniest cell within the cortex.
One could say, much in the same way that “male and female” are both distinct, yet simultaneously both human, or two bowls, one containing hot water and one containing ice, yet both containing water, that the physical universe, filled as it is with specific temporal structures and individuals, may be a manifestation of both the physical and the non-physical, which are different aspects of the same existence. Living creatures, planets, solar systems, and galaxies, are all made of exactly the same universal elementary particles, which, so far as we can determine, ultimately become indistinguishable from one another once you descend far enough into their most essential nature. While we are able to identify and categorize distinct structures, elements, and individuals, distinct in one light, they are all simultaneously joined into the oneness of all life. It is an expression of the true nature of all things.
We can only affirm and make reference to objects and forces through our experience of them. Our experience of them is reliant on our physical, sensory, and cognitive functionality. Our collective functionality is founded upon our physical existence. Our physical existence is fundamentally a series of quantum events characterized by a fleeting fluctuation between being and non-being. What I am suggesting is that human consciousness may be the bridge between our temporal nature and spiritual forces which support life.
If the history of humanity is any indication of what is required to progress as living creatures, the gradual blending of ideas seems at least worth a try. The interdependence of individuals within a group, of diverse species within ecosystems, of the various minute particles that produce elements, of the many processes which produced life within our own galaxy, all suggest that life is not simply the result of either the empirical or the mystical. At this stage of our development, blending ideas seems like a sensible alternative.