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steampunkThere’s a stubborn modern paradigm that tries to suggest our brains are just like computers. I call it a “spirit of the age” because at one time scientists suggested our brain was really just like a telegraph machine. Go back a bit more and our brain is now totally steampunk, just like the gears of early industrial machinery, and so it goes back through time, the dominant brain narrative of the day always matching our latest technological discovery.

This however is simply a narrative, a paradigm, an analogy having no basis in science or fact at all. It is culture, narratives, a spirit of the age that leads us to compare our brains to computers. If you talk to or read some actual neurologists, the honest ones will look you right in the eye and say, we actually have no idea what’s really going on up there.

gearsOur brains are actually NOT memory banks and processors run by algorithms. Not even close. We haven’t even begun to understand the frame-work in which to try to describe the human brain. In many ways, it remains a complete mystery.

Our brains are so unique and mysterious, that we need not fear some of these sci/fi utopian visions that have us downloading our brains into computers and becoming some new form of artificial intelligence ourselves, or a computer with a personality and eternal life. We are totally incompatible with computers in that way, meaning there are no memory banks to copy and download, no actual processor to hack into.

All in good humor here, but as you start to get a bit older, it becomes quite clear to you, there really is no memory bank and processor to even access. That is an illusion. There is however, definitely something spiritual going on, hardwired right into us.

Not only do we not fully understand our own brains, we can’t even really map and define consciousness in a material or concrete way. We can pull the essence out of a grape, and have something tangible to hold in our hands, but the essence of people? That is something much more ethereal and mysterious. We simply don’t know.

watchWhat is known about the brain is actually kind of interesting and tends to line up with scripture, specifically metanoia, transformation, change. The renewal of the mind. We don’t actually learn by storing up memories in a data bank and retrieving them, or responding to a series of rewards and punishments, or processing algorithms, we learn by experiencing things that actually change the very chemistry of our brains. We are in a  constant state of flux, fluidity, of adaptation, run by energy and chemistry. To make matters more complex, these learning experiences are not just external ones, but also internal ones. We can actually alter our own brain chemistry by our own internal negativity, that may have no real basis in external fact.

Conversely, we can also positively alter our very brain chemistry internally, in a way that may have little or no basis in actual external circumstances. It is complex however, as in we are also heavily influenced by the energy around us. Our brains are also impacted by external energy, which gets a bit trippy. We are not complete captains of our soul, driving our own minds. We are surprisingly vulnerable to outside influences…. and to internal chemistry.

These truths, these facts that science is only now beginning to discover are actually truths already to be found in scripture. It’s really only in the modern West that our paradigm has grown so narrow that we actually try to separate mind, body, and spirit into completely unrelated little boxes, with “science” now perceived as something distinctly disconnected from faith. The material world is labeled “real,” whereas everything else is now false, superstition.

However, for most of human history, all over the world and still today in more Eastern thought, the thought paradigm embraced the idea that mind, body, and spirit are all connected and inter-related. In the West we would probably sneer at that, label it superstition, primitive, or not progressive and science minded. Of course while sneering in great contempt at the “regressively superstitious,” we would also hang up our prayer flags, dangle a few crystals, invest in yoga classes, and take up Buddhist chanting.

Such is the nature of people, what can I say. We aren’t always the most self-aware creatures.

So, our brains are NOT like computers at all. That actually is real science, based in fact and evidence, but I leave it to others to research on account of the fact that I dislike writing a thesis all the time. My point simply being our brains are actually filled with incredible fluidity, still somewhat mysterious and not well understood. That fluidity, that capacity for complete transformation, for metanoia, is good news. We are not captives of our own brain chemistry, we are not set in stone. Memories, experiences, behaviors can be changed. To some extent, changing our brains will actually influence our external reality and even begin to alter the behavior of those around us. That really is a mysterious truth.

We are literally the authors of our own story, within parameters. There are edges to our world, some limits to our abilities, but that is the essence of it all. Scripture really nails down so many of these truths, things not even fully understood today, and honors the fluidity of our brains in a way that Western culture is often busy trying to deny and undo. I sometimes jokingly call the bible “the instruction manual,” as in when something goes wrong, did you read the instruction manual, check the troubleshooting section?

I just really encourage those of us who may be by-products of the Western world to question our own paradigms, to challenge our own thinking and cultural narratives. Many of the things that shape our thought processes are actually just narratives or analogies having no real basis in truth, like the concept that tries to suggest our brains are just like computers. That is actually just a spirit of the age about as accurate as our steampunk brains or the electric eel that has clearly taken up full-time residence in mine.

An electric eel by the way is actually not an eel at all, but a knifefish, more closely related to a catfish. There is one who actually tweets from Tennesee, “Miguel Wattson — get it, Watts-on?” 

Well, now you know.