The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
Collectively, we humans have never lived this long. The average lifespan in the year 1900 was forty-seven—today it is seventy-five.
Consequently, problems resulting from the physiological deterioration of the aging brain are only recently becoming intensely studied. Compared to other amazing advancements in scientific exploration of reality, understanding of the human brain is the very earliest stages of exploration and development. Of course, aging and the field of gerontology are, generally speaking, newly emerged concerns for our modern age.
But as I discussed at some length in my book Close Connections, the more science examines this most complex creation in all of physical reality—the human brain—the more speculation shifts from modular theory, to holonomic theory, and, even more recently, to what I call the “transceiver” theory, where we understand the source of consciousness as non-physical.
In short, increasingly exploration of the relationship between “self” or “consciousness” and the brain indicates that the source of “self” is metaphysical and not biological, even though it communicates back and forth through the intermediary of the brain so long as this relationship endures.
The growing popularity of this theory has even gained acceptance among major scientists in the field of neurology, because too much new information indicates capacities of will and consciousness defy any present physiological model, even explanations postulated through quantum physics. Some scientists have concluded that there is no possibility of any future physiological model being capable of accounting for human personality, human consciousness, and human will as being the random product of neurological activity.
The Baha’i teachings have long held that exact same understanding—that the seat of human consciousness is the soul and not the brain, the spiritual and not the physical:
Thou hast asked Me whether man, as apart from the Prophets of God and His chosen ones, will retain, after his physical death, the self-same individuality, personality, consciousness, and understanding that characterize his life in this world. If this should be the case, how is it, thou hast observed, that whereas such slight injuries to his mental faculties as fainting and severe illness deprive him of his understanding and consciousness, his death, which must involve the decomposition of his body and the dissolution of its elements, is powerless to destroy that understanding and extinguish that consciousness? How can any one imagine that man’s consciousness and personality will be maintained, when the very instruments necessary to their existence and function will have completely disintegrated?
Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 153-154.
In short, science is discovering that the essential self is non-local—not resident in or dependent on a physical organ. Your brain, in other words, is not you. Over time, and not all that much time at that, the study of the interplay between physics and metaphysics will doubtless vindicate completely this understanding of the human reality. For now, we can accept it or not based on our individual study and experience.
My own experience is that “I write, therefore I get published,” an axiom that is decent enough for me to accept the knowledge that I am thinking. Furthermore, I refuse to give credit for my thinking to the random firing of a bunch of neurons I’ve never met that reside in some specialized lobes of my brain, though I may take my royalties and buy some brain food (smoked salmon is good) as a token of appreciation to my lobes.
The relationship of this paradigm to the Baha’i concept of human purpose—of our spiritual preparation for a non-physical birth into a metaphysical environment—is extremely enlightening as regards our creation, particularly as regards the notion of our being made in the image of our Creator.
In this Baha’i view of our human reality, the essential self begins gradually to escape the bonds of physiological constraints and, ultimately, at the moment of death, to escape physiological association altogether. Or, stated from the Creator’s perspective, our relationship to physical reality is specifically designed to gradually extricate and detach us by degrees from attachment to our lower or physical nature.