In the wake of new research showing antidepressants don't work and that the brains of depressed patients don't seem genetically different from those of undepressed people, you have an opening to look at the mind with fresh eyes.
Depression is the smallest tip of a huge iceberg. The fad for focusing on the brain has overwhelmed science and society as a whole. It perfectly suits our materialistic belief system. As a result, science acts as if the mind is a fiction, a ghost or a superstition, very much like the soul. That is a straw man of the most obvious sort because how your life turns out depends very little on whether you believe in the soul—it depends a great deal on how you use your mind.
I realize this seems like an abstract or lofty debate to ordinary people. Brain or mind? It's all the same to them. But consider it a bit more deeply. If treating depression by looking inside was better all along, if popping millions of antidepressants was a dead end all along, what other issues might fit the same model?
Here are a few hot candidates:
These are three big topics, but the brain is also given primacy in many other fields, including emotions (more chemical secretions), relationships (an evolutionary holdover), morality, aesthetics, philosophy and spirituality in general (all of these fields are illusory compared to the brain responses that cause them). It's as if someone discovered the radio and declared, "Good, now we know where music comes from. We can ditch all this nonsense about composers and genius."
- God: Researchers have been striving (in vain) to show that there is a faith gene, or that religion was a survival mechanism to protect our species, or that God is a holdover from ancient brain responses that used fear to keep people alert to danger when they lived in caves. Thus, fear of saber-toothed tigers morphed into fear of a punishing God. That there might actually be a God who lies outside the purview of science. This doesn't prevent scientists from thinking they are about to disprove God.
- Love: There is a ceaseless campaign to posit a love gene or, lacking that, a brain response that roots love in chemistry. Insofar as people deem love to be noble, uplifting or even meaningful, they are being fooled by a meaningless brain secretion. Once again, as with God, evolutionary biologists presume that primitive humans needed to bond together for survival and what they call love depends upon an atavistic holdover.
- Psychology: The basis of psychology is that the self can be normal or abnormal, healthy or sick. Brain researchers haven't found any location for such a self, however. Therefore, since the brain holds all the answers, there's a strong camp that declares the self to be a total illusion. If you feel like a person having experiences that matter to yourself, you are being deluded by clouds of chemical reactions in the brain that are so complex you cannot fathom them all. Therefore, you take the easy, and primitive, way out by telling yourself that you have a self. (Ironically, Buddhism and Hinduism deny the personal self, also, but for another reason: Identifying with the ego, or personal self, blocks our access to a higher self where true meaning abides.)
Why it's important to add the mind to the equation
Just as a radio picks up the signals that transmit music, so the brain functions to bring mind into everyday reality. If the radio is smashed, the music goes away. If the brain is ill, defective or damaged, some aspect of mind will go away. But to use this reasoning as proof that the brain is the mind or more real than the mind, is utter folly. Would you believe it if someone claimed that World War II was caused by Germany and Japan having something wrong in the brain? Would you believe it if you were told a spouse you deeply love and trust only appeals to you because prehistoric man needed to bunch up by the fire in order not to freeze?
Throwing mind out of the equation is done for only one reason: it's useful in the short run. Science takes messy, complex reality and steps outside it, turning experience into elegant numbers and manageable data. That's quite practical. There's a lot of knowledge to be gained by looking at data. But when science holds out numbers to claim that they are reality or that ordinary experience is an illusion, a huge mistake has been made.
How will this mistake be reversed? It won't happen by calling religion back into the picture. What people need isn't a divine mystery; they need knowledge that accepts science while going beyond it. So, what does "beyond" mean? It means returning to messy, complex reality and understanding it more deeply. Science has always been a tool, not an end unto itself. When technology is allowed to trump morality, horrors like the atom bomb happen. When genetics is allowed to wipe out spirituality, a mass sense of futility and emptiness occur. Science can't give life a purpose any more than a reality television show set in Samoa can substitute for going out to the beach.
Ultimately, the current brain fetish will reach a dead end, if it hasn't already. Society will return to the concept of the mind, and something startling but obvious will emerge and become accepted. Consciousness is primary, the brain is secondary. This is like saying that music is primary, the radio is secondary. Whatever is primary comes first and holds the essence of life.
It's my personal conviction that the brain was created by consciousness. There is no other viable explanation, because our current explanation, that the human brain evolved through random mutations, simply doesn't hold water. Our brains are the single most complex structures in the universe. To say that they were randomly created is a million times more unlikely than having 10 monkeys sitting at typewriters produce all of Shakespeare. But that's a topic for deeper thought. It will be good enough if coming generations turn back to the mind and stop reducing the richness of experience to a mushy machine made of meat.
Why it's better to have a mind than a brain
How to be your own placebo
The placebo effect: How to use your mind-body connection for healing
Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
Printed from Oprah.com on Sunday, March 9, 2014
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