CAN SCIENCE PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF GOD?
By GEORGE JOHNSON
The Lord is known by the judgments he executes...(Psalm 9:16).
November 11, 2003
have no need for that hypothesis," Pierre-Simon Laplace famously responded when asked where God fit into his new astronomical theory. (Psalm 14; Romans 1:16-20). Using calculus and Newton's laws of gravity, he explained the forces that kept the planets from gradually drifting out of orbit, imparting some stability to the solar system. Newton had thought the Great Engineer must step in now and then to readjust the machine. The theory didn't explain where the solar system came from. But Laplace also had an answer. The planets, he proposed, had congealed from a swirling cloud of gas and dust surrounding the sun.
O.K., so where did the sun and the mother cloud come from? And what set the whole thing revolving? By now, scientists think they have even those answers, AND THEY DO NOT INVOLVE THE INTERVENTION OF ANY GREAT ENGINEER. The whole point of science for the last few hundred years has been to explain everything in terms of a physical process, something that can be described by equations.
The quest, however, is far from done. God, for those who want to use that term, can be invoked to account for phenomena that have not yet yielded to the scientific method. What is for some the ultimate question Does God exist? has become a matter of how much further the domain of the unknown will continue to contract, and if it will ultimately evaporate.
The momentum has been in that direction. The whirlpool of cosmic stuff that spawned the solar system spins because it is one small part of the great rotating galaxy, the Milky Way. When a random fluctuation causes enough gas and dust to bunch together, gravity takes over and celestial bodies begin to form. If you want to know where the galaxies came from, there are answers as well. Ultimately, it all comes down to the Big Bang. That is where the chain of reasoning bottoms out. What caused the primordial explosion? At this point all but a few scientists go with Wittgenstein ("of what we cannot speak we must pass over in silence") or with Kierkegaard, blindly taking the leap of faith into the abyss of the unknown, choosing what to believe...
In the Beginning...(Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-14...KJV)
Why there is something instead of nothing is not an issue that science is well equipped to address. As cosmologists understand it, the primordial eruption did not take place at a certain instant in a certain place. The Big Bang created absolutely everything, including space-time itself. How can anyone ask what set the whole thing going if there was no space or time for a creator to be in, much less any matter or energy for Him or Her or It to work with?
This rather formidable obstacle doesn't prevent a few people, some of them scientists, from trying to prove, or disprove, the existence of a deity. Almost any book or conference on science and religion inevitably includes what has become a metaphysical set piece: The various parameters of the universe the charge of the electron, the strength of gravity, and so forth appear to be finely tuned to support the existence of stars and atoms and molecules and life. If the conditions at the instant of the Big Bang had been slightly different, the argument goes, then the universe (at least from an earthling's point of view) would have been a colossal waste of space-time. So we are the lucky benefactors of blind chance, or life was planned all along either by a Great Intender or by some physical or mathematical or logical law or process. Ignore the great Wittgensteinian whisper and you feel the queasy discomfort of a human mind pushed to the edge of what it is possible to know.
One theory is that the Big Bang actually spawned a plenitude of universes each randomly endowed with different physical conditions. People, of course, find themselves in one that is capable of supporting life.
Isaiah 6:1-3; Ephesians 1:17-23; 3:17-19; Colossians 1:12-20; 6-19.
How many gods (universes) are there, Yajnavalkya?
He answered: "As many as are mentioned in the Hymn to All the Gods, namely three hundred and three, and three thousand and three."
Yes, but how many gods are there Yajnavalkya?..."Thirty-three."
Yes, but how many gods are there Yajnavalkya?..."Six."
Yes, but how many gods are there Yajnavalkya?..."Two."
Yes, but how many gods are there Yajnavalkya?..."One."
"Bring hither a fig from there....'Here it is sir.' Divide it....'It is divided sir.' What do you see there?....'These rather fine seeds, Sir.' Of these please divide one....'It is divided, Sir.' What do you see there?....'Nothing at all, Sir.'
Verily, my dear one, that finest essence which you do not perceive--verily from that finest essence this Great Tree thus arises. Believe me, my dear one, that which is the finest essence--this whole world has that as a Soul. That is Reality. That is Atman. Tat tvam asi--that art thou...
'Do you, Sir, cause me to understand even more.'
So be it, my dear one."
AYIN, NOTHINGNESS, it is more than all the being of the world. But since it is simple, and every simple thing is complex compared with its simplicity, it is called Ayin...
The depth of primordial being is called Boundless. Because of its concealment from all creatures above and below, it is also called Nothingness. If one asks, "What is it?" the answer is "Nothing," meaning, No one can understand anything about it It is negated of every conception. No one can know anything about it--except the belief that it exists (and except, of course, what it reveals about Itself and its intentions in the Ten Sefirot of the Tree of Life). Its existence cannot be grasped by anyone other than it. Therefore it's name is "I am becoming." The Essential Kabbalah, The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, by Daniel C. Matt, pp.66,67.
E = Mc2
Whether the multiverse theory is more comforting than believing that human existence results from a senseless crapshoot or a holy decree is a matter of taste, not science. For many theorists it is also a betrayal of the great effort to explain the laws of physics. Some still hope to find "a theory of the initial conditions of the universe," a supreme mathematical law, hidden perhaps in superstring theory, showing that the parameters of creation could have been set only in a certain way. But then they would have to find a law to explain where the law came from...and ultimately an explanation of why the universe is mathematical and of where mathematics came from and what numbers are.
Like a petulant 8-year-old, we keep asking why, why, why, why. In the end, the answer is either "just because" or "for God made it so." Take your pick.
The New York Times
For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, EVEN HIS ETERNAL POWER AND GODHEAD; so that they (the religiouis, political and scientific leaders) are without excuse...(Romans 1:17-22).
HOW DID LIFE BEGIN?
By NICHOLAS WADE
And God said, Let there be light (Life): and there was (Life)...(Genesis 1:3; John 1:3-5).
The origin of life is biology's most daunting problem. Scientists are good at understanding processes that they can study. But the emergence of life was a single event that occurred 3.5 billion to 4 billion years ago. Even the rocks of that era have mostly vanished. Some progress is being made at reconstructing the process that led to the first living cells. But it consists of conjectures of varying plausibility, not proof.
Modern cells are such complex devices that it is hard to conceive how they could have assembled spontaneously from the chemicals available on the primitive earth. A recent approach to the problem, developed by Günter Wächtershaüser, a Munich chemist and patent lawyer, goes as follows. Forget, he says, the sophisticated molecules that run today's cells the DNA that stores information, the RNA that runs operations, the proteins that serve as structural material and controllers of chemical metabolism. All those must have come later. Forget about the cell membrane ways to get things in and out of it must also have developed later.
John 1:1-14. (KJV)
Life must have started in the simplest possible way, as a cycle, a natural chemical reaction that repeated itself, spinning off byproducts, some of which stayed around to maintain and develop the cycle.
Every living organism, including Man, is created out of the Four primary elements.
Where did this cycle start? Dr. Wächtershaüser favors some mineral surface like iron pyrites, also known as fool's gold. A natural catalyst, the iron pyrites could have assembled chemicals like carbon monoxide into biological building blocks. At some stage, the little cycle acquired a cover of protective chemicals, to separate its own reactions from the general milieu. When the cover eventually enveloped the cycle and broke free of the mineral surface, the first cell was born.
Dr. Wächtershaüser and others have shown that important components of today's biochemistry can be formed on iron pyrite surfaces, notably pyruvate, the fuel for a basic energy-producing reaction known as the citric acid cycle.
A different entry point to the origin of life concerns RNA, the close chemical cousin of DNA. Though DNA gets the attention, it is RNA that performs all of the trickiest operations in the cell, whether retrieving information from the DNA or turning this information into proteins. Biologists have long supposed that RNA was the pivotal actor in the earliest cells and later delegated most of its information-storage duties to DNA, a less versatile but stabler chemical. The concept gained credence when Dr. Thomas R. Cech and Dr. Sidney Altman discovered independently that RNA could act as an enzyme, a catalyst of chemical activities, as well as store genetic information.
Let Us Create Man in Our Image...(Genesis 1:14-26).
THE WESTERN ENDS OF THE EARTH...GENESIS 1:26.
This dual property of RNA seems in principle to resolve one of life's thornier paradoxes, that DNA requires a protein catalyst for its replication, and the protein requires DNA to make it, implying neither could exist without the other's being there first. RNA could have performed both functions. Chemists have not yet devised an RNA molecule that can replicate itself. But they have shown that RNA molecules can copy short pieces of RNA. That bolsters the idea that before DNA there was an RNA world in which RNA, or some similar precursor polymer, ran the show.
The subunits of RNA molecules are themselves quite complex chemicals. It is not too easy to see how the first RNA molecules could have come into existence. But A CLAY called montmorillonite, formed from weathered volcanic ash and familiar in many households as cat litter, has the interesting property of catalyzing the formation of RNA from its subunits. In an article in Science magazine last month, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital reported that the montmorillonite clay had another property of possible relevance to the origin of life. It makes droplets of fat molecules rearrange themselves into small bubbles, similar to the membranes that make up the walls of living cells. Often the clay particles are incorporated into the bubbles, the research team found, with any attached RNA molecules. "Mineral particles may have greatly facilitated the emergence of the first cells," they said.
In a second experiment, the researchers found that they could make their protocells divide by forcing them through fine holes in a filter. A natural counterpart to this process, they suggest, would be water currents' forcing bubbles through rock pores.
Volcanoes, whether on land or in the vents of the mid-sea floors, have exotic chemistries and processes that make them attractive candidates venues for the origin of life. But Jack W. Szostak, an one of the Massachusetts researchers, warned that it would be of it would be "overinterpreting" the experiments to say they pointed to vents as the spot where life emerged.
Researchers are a long way from reconstructing any plausible path for the origin of life. But they have not given up. And they always conclude, no matter how fragmentary their evidence, that life is possible.
The New York Times.
Then shall the righteous (the highly evolved) shine forth as the Sun in the kingdom of their Father (and Mother). Who hath ears to hear, let them hear...(Matthew 13:43).
IS EVOLUTION TRULY RANDOM?
By CAROL KAESUK YOON
In nearly every life, there is a moment when a person realizes, with a shudder, how easily she might never have come to be: how her parents nearly missed meeting, or how some other critical genealogical event almost didn't happen. In the same way, evolutionary biologists have pondered one of their most intractable questions: how much of the living world is here by chance, and might not evolve, if time were turned back and evolutionary history played out again? A few scientists have begun finding ingenious ways to test the repeatability of evolution. And they are finding that what they thought were the random vagaries of evolution are not so random at all.
"There's a lot of phenomenal data coming out," said Dr. Loren H. Rieseberg, an evolutionary biologist at Indiana University. "There's clearly more to repeatability than we'd suspected a decade ago." Dr. Richard E. Lenski, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State, said, "A lot of studies are finding quite a lot of surprising replicability of evolutionary outcomes."
Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard paleontologist, crystallized the question in his book "Wonderful Life." What would happen, he asked, if the tape of the history of life were rewound and replayed? For many, including Dr. Gould, the answer was clear. He wrote that "any replay of the tape would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the road actually taken." In fact, to many scientists, it would seem impossible to re-evolve anything like life on earth today, given how life has been shaped by accidents large and small.
But 12 flasks of bacteria in East Lansing, Mich., are beginning to challenge such notions. In 1988, Dr. Lenski and his colleagues set up a dozen genetically identical populations of E. coli bacteria in bottles of broth and have followed their evolutionary fates. Now, more than 30,000 bacterial generations later, Dr. Lenski and colleagues have what is becoming one of the most striking examples of repeatability yet. All 12 populations show the same patterns of improvement in their ability to compete in a bottle and increases in cell size. All 12 have also lost their ability to break down and use a sugar, called ribose. More surprising, many genetic changes underlying these adaptations are very similar. Every population, for example, lost its ability to break down ribose by losing a long stretch of DNA from the same gene. Other scientists studying cichlid fish have observed how the same varieties of cichlids evolve anew every time they invade a new lake. And Dr. Rieseberg and colleagues have found evidence that evolution can repeatedly produce the same species.
These scientists found that one sunflower species on sand dunes has evolved independently three separate times. And each time one of the species newly evolves, genetically it appears to turn out much the same. "With these species, there seems to be only one way to do it," Dr. Rieseberg said.
Some scientists, like Dr. Simon Conway Morris, a paleobiologist at the University of Cambridge and ardent critic of Dr. Gould's view, say the evidence for repeatability is rampant. He argues in his new book, "Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe," that some features are so adaptive that they are essentially inevitable like the ability to see and, as his title suggests, the intelligence and self-awareness that are the hallmarks of humanity.
Still, scientists say that EXPERIMENTAL POPULATIONS evolving in parallel are not identical. For example, the genetic changes underlying identical adaptations in different populations can differ, even if in minute detail. Are these the subtle differences that could send evolution down a different path? Only the definitive experiment which remains beyond the scope of the National Science Foundation budget can say.
"What we need are about 1,000 worlds to play evolution back correctly," Dr. Rieseberg said. "THEN WE CAN REALLY FIND OUT WHAT WOULD HAPPEN."
The New York Times
I have said ye are gods; and all of you are the children of the Most High.
But ye shall all die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
Arise, O God, judge the earth: for Thou shalt inherit all nations...(Psalm 82:6-8).
The Lord is a Man of War: the Lord is His Name...(Exodus 15:1-18; Revelation 15:1-4).
I will have no other gods before me...(Exodus 20:3).
For that day shall not come, except there come a (great) falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?...(2 Thessalonians 2:3-5...KJV).
IS WAR OUR BIOLOGICAL DESTINY?
By NATALIE ANGIER
Published: November 11, 2003__In these days of hidebound militarism and round-robin carnage, when even that beloved ambassador of peace, the Dalai Lama, says it may be necessary to counter terrorism with violence, it's fair to ask: Is humanity doomed? Are we born for the battlefield congenitally, hormonally incapable of putting war behind us? Is there no alternative to the bullet-riddled trapdoor, short of mass sedation or a Marshall Plan for our DNA? Was Plato right that "Only the dead have seen the end of war"?
In the heartening if admittedly provisional opinion of a number of researchers who study warfare, aggression, and the evolutionary roots of conflict, the great philosopher was, for once, whistling in a cave. As they see it, blood lust and the desire to wage war are by no means innate. To the contrary, recent studies in the field of game theory show just how readily human beings establish cooperative networks with one another, and how quickly a cooperative strategy reaches a point of so-called fixation. Researchers argue that one need not be a Pollyanna, or even an aging hippie, to imagine a human future in which war is rare and universally condemned.
For they shall be called the children of God...(Matthew 5:1-16)
They point out that slavery was long an accepted fact of life; if your side lost the battle, tough break, the wife and kids were shipped off as slaves to the victors. Now, when cases of slavery arise in the news, they are considered perverse and unseemly. The incentive to make war similarly anachronistic is enormous, say the researchers, though they worry that it may take the dropping of another nuclear bomb in the middle of a battlefield before everybody gets the message. "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought," Albert Einstein said, "but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
Admittedly, war making will be a hard habit to shake. "There have been very few times in the history of civilization when there hasn't been a war going on somewhere," said Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian and classicist at California State University in Fresno. He cites a brief period between A.D. 100 and A.D. 200 as perhaps the only time of world peace, the result of the Roman Empire's having everyone, fleetingly, in its thrall.
Archaeologists and anthropologists have found evidence of militarism in perhaps 95 percent of the cultures they have examined or unearthed. Time and again groups initially lauded as gentle and peace-loving the Mayas, the !Kung of the Kalahari, Margaret Mead's Samoans, eventually were outed as being no less bestial than the rest of us. A few isolated cultures have managed to avoid war for long stretches. The ancient Minoans, for example, who populated Crete and the surrounding Aegean Islands, went 1,500 years battle-free; it didn't hurt that they had a strong navy to deter would-be conquerors.
Warriors have often been the most esteemed of their group, the most coveted mates. And if they weren't loved for themselves, their spears were good courtship accessories. This year, geneticists found evidence that Genghis Khan, the 13th century Mongol emperor, fathered so many offspring as he slashed through Asia that 16 million men, or half a percent of the world's male population, could be his descendants.
Wars are romanticized, subjects of an endless, cross-temporal, transcultural spool of poems, songs, plays, paintings, novels, films. The battlefield is mythologized as the furnace in which character and nobility are forged; and, oh, what a thrill it can be. "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction," writes Chris Hedges, a reporter for The New York Times who has covered wars, in "WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING." Even with its destruction and carnage, he adds, war "can give us what we long for in life." "It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living," he continues.
James, chapter 4...KJV
Nor are humans the only great apes to indulge in the elixir. Common chimpanzees, which share about 98 percent of their genes with humans, also wage war: gangs of neighboring males meet at the borderline of their territories with the express purpose of exterminating their opponents. So many males are lost to battle that the sex ratio among adult chimpanzees is two females for every male.
And yet there are other drugs on the market, other behaviors to sate the savage beast. Dr. Frans de Waal, a primatologist and professor of psychology at Emory University, points out that a different species of chimpanzee, the bonobo, chooses love over war, using a tantric array of sexual acts to resolve any social problems that arise. Serious bonobo combat is rare, and the male-to-female ratio is, accordingly, 1:1. Bonobos are as closely related to humans as are common chimpanzees, so take your pick of which might offer deeper insight into the primal "roots" of human behavior. Or how about hamadryas baboons? They're surly, but not silly. If you throw a peanut in front of a male, Dr. de Waal said, it will pick it up happily and eat it. Throw the same peanut in front of two male baboons, and they'll ignore it. "They'll act as if it doesn't exist," he said. "It's not worth a fight between two fully grown males."
Even the ubiquitousness of warfare in human history doesn't impress researchers. "When you consider it was only about 13,000 years ago that we discovered agriculture, and that most of what we're calling human history occurred since then," said Dr. David Sloan Wilson, a biology and anthropology professor at Binghamton University in New York, "you see what a short amount of time we've had to work toward global peace."
In that brief time span, the size of cooperative groups has grown steadily, and by many measures more pacific. Maybe 100 million people died in the world wars of the 20th century. Yet Dr. Lawrence H. Keeley, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has estimated that if the proportion of casualties in the modern era were to equal that seen in many conflicts among preindustrial groups, then perhaps two billion people would have died.
Indeed, national temperaments seem capable of rapid, radical change. The Vikings slaughtered and plundered; their descendants in Sweden haven't fought a war in nearly 200 years, while the Danes reserve their fighting spirit for negotiating better vacation packages. The tribes of highland New Guinea were famous for small-scale warfare, said Dr. Peter J. Richerson, an expert in cultural evolution at the University of California at Davis. "But when, after World War II, the Australian police patrols went around and told people they couldn't fight anymore, the New Guineans thought that was wonderful," Dr. Richerson said. "They were glad to have an excuse."
Dr. Wilson cites the results of game theory experiments: participants can adopt a cheating strategy to try to earn more for themselves, but at the risk of everybody's losing, or a cooperative strategy with all earning a smaller but more reliable reward. In laboratories around the world, researchers have found that participants implement the mutually beneficial strategy, in which cooperators are rewarded and noncooperators are punished. "It shows in a very simple and powerful way that it's easy to get cooperation to evolve to fixation, for it to be the successful strategy," he said. There is no such quantifiable evidence or theoretical underpinning in favor of Man the Warrior, he added.
As Dr. de Waal and many others see it, the way to foment peace is to encourage interdependency among nations, as in the European Union. "Imagine if France were to invade Germany now," he said. "That would upset every aspect of their economic world," not the least one being France's reliance on the influx of German tourists. "It's not as if Europeans all love each other," Dr. de Waal said. "But you're not promoting love, you're promoting economic calculations."
It's not just the money. Who can put a price tag on the pleasures to be had from that wholesome, venerable sport making fun of the tourists?
Their Feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoiughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths...
The way of peace they know not; and their is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for Light, but behold obscurity; for Brightness, but we walk in Darkness...(Isaiah 59:7-9).
And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end.
Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.
I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it to him...(Ezekiel 21:25-27).
HOW DOES THE BRAIN WORK?
By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
In the continuing effort to understand the human brain, the mysteries keep piling up. Consider what scientists are up against. Stretched flat, the human neocortex the center of our higher mental functions is about the size and thickness of a formal dinner napkin. With 100 billion cells, each with 1,000 to 10,000 synapses, the neocortex makes roughly 100 trillion connections and contains 300 million feet of wiring packed with other tissue into a one-and-a-half-quart volume in the brain.
These cells are arranged in six very similar layers, inviting confusion. Within these layers, different regions carry out vision, hearing, touch, the sense of balance, movement, emotional responses and every other feat of cognition. More mysterious yet, there are 10 times as many feedback connections from the neocortex to lower levels of the brain as there are feed-forward or bottom-up connections.
Added to these mysteries is the lack of a good framework for understanding the brain's connectivity and electrochemistry. Researchers do not know how the six-layered cortical sheet gives rise to the sense of self. They have not been able to disentangle the role of genes and experience in shaping brains. They do not know how the firing of billions of loosely coupled neurons gives rise to coordinated, goal-directed behavior. THEY CAN SEE TREES BUT NO FOREST....
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear...(Matthew 13:1-16...KJV).
They do think they have solved one longstanding mystery, though. Most neuroscientists are convinced the mind is in no way separate from the brain. In the brain they have found a physical basis for all our thoughts, aspirations, language, sense of consciousness, moral beliefs and everything else that makes us human. All of this arises from interactions among billions of ordinary cells. NEUROSCIENCE FINDS NO DUALITY, NO FINGER OF GOD ANIMATING THE HUMAN MIND.
So what have neuroscientists been doing? Like a child who takes apart his father's watch, they have dissected the brain and now have almost all the pieces laid out before them. There are thousands of clues about what makes the brain tick. But how to put it back together? How to understand something so complex by examining it piecemeal? Even harder, how to integrate the different levels of analysis? Some brain events occur in fractions of milliseconds while others, like long-term memory formation, can take days or weeks. One can study molecules, ion channels, single neurons, functional areas, circuits, oscillations and chemistry. There are neural stem cells and mechanisms of plasticity, which involve how the brain changes with experience or recovers from injury.
These spheres--a mirror above reflecting the realities of earth below--represent in the sacred Hebrew texts the various levels of human consciousness, and all of the confused, but nevertheless evolving mixtures in between...(Genesis 1:14-16; Genesis 6:1-7).
Remember: West below (the realm of Adam), East above (the realm of angels).
Hast thou with God, spread out the sky which is strong, as a molten looking glass?...(Job 37:18).
"In order to elevate our thoughts to a contemplation of the transcendent problems toward which the mind of the Gnostics were carried...from the world of men, our earth, we must pass in thought, through the sublunary spaces, visible and invisible, thence we must pass beyond the moon firmament, the heaven, into ethereal spaces, and regions, orders and hierarchies--bound at the utmost limit of space and time, by the great firmament, the ring "pass-not" which marks off the phenomenal universe from the universe of Reality out of space and time. It is a boundary everywhere and nowhere." Fragments of the Faith Forgotten, by G.R.S. Mead.
"The physical world in which we live, the objectively observed universe around us, is only part of an inconceivably vast system of worlds, most of which are spiritual in essence. They are of a different order from our known world, which does not mean that they exist somewhere else, but means that they exist in different dimensions of being. What is more, the various worlds interpenetrate and interact in such a way that they can be considered counterparts of one another, each reflecting or projecting itself on the one below or above it, with all the modifications, changes, and even distortions that are the result of such interactions." Adin Steinsaltz, The Thirteen Petalled Rose.
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus (the Pantokrator...He who dwells in the heights of human comprehension) shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ...(2 Thessalonians 1:1-10).
New research tools continue to drive progress. In the late 1970's, researchers mostly placed sharp-tipped electrodes into single cells and measured firing patterns. By the 1990's, they had machines that could take images of brain activity while people spoke, read, gambled, solved moral dilemmas or, in a recent study, had orgasms. Unfortunately, studies like these, while fascinating, tend to feed the fires of a huge disagreement within the brain sciences: is the brain made up of discrete modules that pass information among themselves? Or is it more loosely organized so that varied pockets of distant neurons fire together when called upon to perform a particular task? In mapping the brain, some researchers say that areas dedicated to aspects of language, arm movements or face recognition are hard-wired modules. Other researchers say that such areas are surprisingly flexible. For example, the human face recognition area is where expert bird watchers distinguish features of closely related species or car experts decide if a 1958 or 1959 Plymouth had bigger fins.
While the two sides in this debate agree that the brain is prewired to some degree at birth, the nature of that prewiring is uncertain. What do genes expressed in the brain do? How do genes influence behavior? What is innate and what is flexible? What is the role of culture in shaping a brain?
While lacking a coherent framework, scientists are nevertheless making progress in mapping the correlations between brain activity and behavior. New imaging tools reveal circuits and overall patterns of activity as people solve problems or reflect on their feelings. Genes expressed in mouse brain cells are being mapped so that researchers can begin to find out if neurons that look alike have different proteins and functions. A magnetic device can knock out human brain regions, safely and temporarily, to learn what those regions do.
A lively debate continues over the nature of time in brain function. In the absence of stimulation from the outside world, NEURONS REMAIN ACTIVE; they are filled with electrical currents that give them a propensity to oscillate and, on interacting, create spiking patterns of activity. Do the spikes carry precise information? Or do such spikes average out over large areas? HOW IS INFORMATION CARRIED IN THE BRAIN?
Go to the ant...consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest...(Proverbs 6:6-8).
One of the most exciting developments is the recent exploration of the frontal lobes. Located behind the forehead, the frontal lobes help create the social brain, melding emotions, cognition, error detection, the body, volition and an autobiographical sense of self. Special circuits containing spindle cells appear to broadcast messages this feels right, this does not feel right to the rest of the brain. Researchers are finding that emotions arise from body states as well as brain states, confirming that the supposed distinction between mind and body is illusory.
Others are delving into individual differences. What makes one person empathic, another mean or shy or articulate or musical? How do genes relate to temperament and how is a baby's brain constructed from early experience? Specialized cells called mirror neurons seem to help babies imitate the world to learn gestures, facial expressions, language and feelings. Brain chemistry is no longer the study of neuromodulators as "juices" that make us feel good or awake. Substances like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine play crucial roles in learning, updating memories and neuropsychiatric disease.
THE QUESTION OF FREE WILL IS ON THE TABLE. Some of our behavior is conscious, but most of it is notoriously unconscious. So although we make choices, IS FREE WILL MOSTLY AN ILLUSION? And what is consciousness? In seeking an explanation, a new mystery has emerged. Many scientists now believe that the brain basically works by simulating reality. The sights, sounds and touches that flow into the brain are put in the framework of what the brain expects on the basis of previous experience and memory.
In the words of many neuroscientists, all these mysteries are terrific job security.
Matter and Consciousness