With the recent release of articles by James Iandoli and Twitter user @Jay09784691, and hosted by Danny Silva and myself, we see an interesting connection between materialist biology and science, and the mystical non-physical world of esoteric metaphysics. The work being done by Dr. Garry Nolan of Stanford University and Dr. Christopher ‘Kit’ Green, a medical doctor, create a symbiosis between the real and the ‘unreal,’ between the natural and the super-natural.
Being a product of a good Jesuit education, I am reminded of St. Paul. Around 54 CE, Paul wrote his famous letters to the Corinthian churches. Known to most Bible readers as 1 Corinthians, Paul expresses in those letters the basic notions of what the Church ought to be. Moreover, his ideas lay the foundation for the dogma of most Catholics. His ideas, though two millennia old, continue to resonate. In 1 Corinthians 15:49 (NIV), he wrote,
“And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.”
Being a student of various esoteric philosophies, I am also reminded of Hermeticism, and the infamous, though dubiously sourced phrase,
“As above, so below.”
It seems Paul and early Hermeticists were on similar paths. What is physical reflects the mystical, and vice versa. To paraphrase what Jesus said to Peter, what is bound on Earth is also bound in Heaven. I’m going to guess that Christ was being both literal and metaphorical here. The material and the immaterial are shadows of the other, mirrors, which reflect the other in themselves.
The realm Nolan and Green seem to be dabbling lies in the gap between the material and the immaterial. The biological evolution of the human brain hardwired to sense the natural world around it, yet simultaneously wired to ‘sense’ the super-natural. While we can only speculate, since this study is in its infancy, we seem to be going through a shift in general perception regarding science, but more importantly, what we deem to be real.
While empiricism and materialism may still reign supreme, the turn towards a more holistic and idealist approach to the world around us has been slowly taking shape over the last several decades. What has been occurring is not a revolution in thinking, but rather an evolution. With the incredibly broad implications and complications of a strange and spooky quantum universe, and with the development of better and more rigorous testing for anomalous science, such as various psi phenomena, everything we used to take for granted is beginning to slowly evolve into something different.
I am not suggesting some “end of days” scenario for mainstream science, nor some dramatic shift towards a world full of New Age hipster academics who believe in The Great Spirit (though, the times they certainly are a’ changing). This shift will be slow and cautious. Perhaps it will be a quiet return to some bygone age where the physical measurable work of scientists was also the mystical work of shamans seeking to understand some version of a Neoplatonist anima mundi. It may sound silly. Perhaps it is. It is a strange world we live in, and while empiricism’s goal is to make it less strange, perhaps it is time to embrace the strange.
Nolan and Green’s hypothesis concerning the connectivity between the brain’s caudate and the putamen structures as being a potential indicator of high cognitive functioning is incredibly fascinating. Moreover, the theories presented by Nolan and Green suggest that this brain system also leads to the potential of ‘sensing’ data and information beyond the five normal senses. Their presentation at Harvard did mention certain candidates in their study who often see and hear things beyond the five senses and possess a sort of “sixth sense” that allows the individual to interact with shades of the universe beyond our current understanding.
Putamen and Caudate Brain Structure (artist rendering, not to scale)
Putamen and Caudate Brain Structure (image from Nolan & Green)
I’ve asked this before in previous posts, and I address this idea more in my book, but are we a simultaneous blend of immaterial systems and material structures? Am I made of dreams and bones?
Returning to ancient religious traditions, such as the writings of St. Paul and the texts of the Hermeticists, Nolan and Green are walking down a well-trodden path, and in good company. This new and unique look at these physical brain structures may be a key to understanding these esoteric ideas which have been around for thousands of years. Our ancient predecessors would not have had the ability to understand the complex physical system of the brain, but they did have the awareness and the insight to understand that the mind was reflexive and reflective of a symbiotic, if not divine, system of the Other.
In my book, I refer to the UFO community as a collection of ghosts who haunt the broader mainstream culture by constantly challenging popular interpretations of reality. Much like ghosts, the community exists, for better and for worse, in the anarchic gap between what is understood and what isn’t. Like so many other religious and spiritual movements, perhaps Nolan and Green are scratching at the surface of what causes communities like the UFO community to form. Jacques Vallee referred to this intelligent Other as a ‘control system,’ and indeed it very well may be, but our various cultures and societies also seem to give it shape (and at times, breadth and depth). In other words, we are influenced by this Other as much as we influence it.
It stands that if there is some Other, well above us in awareness, or ‘intelligence,’ and agency, then indeed, our only tool, our immaterial mind and material brain, which allows for creativity, intellect and imagination must be housed below. Our thoughts and ideas are not totally our own, but part of a larger system. To steal from Jung, we seem to be shadows of something larger, yet in our own right, also seem to cast shadows upon that broader body. Nolan and Green may be at the gateway to this realm of the Other; perhaps they have found the door, and all that is missing now is the key.
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