There are still some simple everyday things and situations that we do not yet fully understand. Setting aside the big and important questions, there are many simple things in life that science does not yet properly understand. We’ll cover some examples here.
Yawning – yawning is a reflex action; it is demonstrably contagious, and although it seems to be associated with tiredness there is still no general agreement on what exactly the function of yawning is. It doesn’t increase oxygen supply to the blood or cool the brain. It may help to pump the cerebrospinal fluid around the brain promoting neural activity and refreshing the brain, but this hasn’t be conclusively proven. Yawning has been described as the least understood common human behaviour. If you ever get the opportunity, you can observe a yawn spread contagiously across a room full of people, even when a person is not consciously aware of the person near them yawning. We know that mirror neurons in Brodmann Area 9 are triggered when we see someone yawn, but we still don’t know exactly why we yawn in sympathy.
Laughter – is a joyous response humans share with some other primates. It is definitely good for us (it produces endorphin’s), but it isn’t clear exactly why we laugh or what evolutionary advantage it had in the past. There is no laughter centre in the brain, but the structures of the limbic brain (hippocampus, amygdala) are involved and it seems to be activated by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Laughter is another common and poorly understood human behaviour (it was briefly covered along with crying in the emotional section).
Sleep – there is no doubt that we need to sleep. We can’t survive for long without it, and we feel a lot better after a good nights sleep. But what is the purpose of sleep? All animals on this planet also need sleep. It is true that during sleep our bodies repair themselves, but this also occurs when we are awake – it is just more intense during sleep because the body is inactive and so it is easier for the repair systems to get to work. The prevalent theory is that the time is required for the brain to repair and refresh itself, and for limbic brain functions such as memory processing. In this case, if humans with big brains and lots of memories need 6 – 8 hours sleep, birds and lower animals should only need a few minutes – but they also seem to sleep all night like we do. Sleep takes a lot of time and leaves animals in a potentially vulnerable state. Sleep can consume 20% of your daily required calorie intake – not too much of an issue for humans today in the western world, but it is expensive for animals. Following evolutionary theory, if an animal evolved that did not require sleep it would be in advantageous position over other animals – either as a predator to exploit prey, or in being able to continuously move so as to avoid being killed and eaten. Clearly there is a basic underlying reason common to all life on this planet to sleep and we don’t yet fully understand what that reason is.
Dreaming – still on the subject of sleep, most of us dream and it seems that many animals dream as well (pets like cats and dogs are often observed displaying all the signs of dreaming). Lots of theories have been advanced, but it still isn’t quite clear what the function of dreaming is. Whether it is an accidental byproduct of memory processing, or a type of gift intending to help us deal with some inner desires and emotions. Perhaps it is a glimpse into the workings of the unconscious limbic brain. We still lack a good explanation for exactly why we dream.
Formation and storage of memories in the brain – we have some knowledge of how the brain goes about storing memories by firing neurons, and we know that there is acoustic, visual, tactile and semantic encoding. But how does visual memory of an event get stored in the cells in the brain? It would require Megabytes or Gigabytes of digital memory. Some people are able to store highly detailed images including movement and sound. The actual mechanism used to encode this information into brain cells is not understood properly. Experiments with animals has shown that memory can be passed from the adult to new-borns, and phobias may be passed on to future generations. It is thought to be chemical changes at the neural interfaces, but despite the research we don’t yet know how exactly it is done. It is therefore possible that previous life accounts and memories may not be from a soul reincarnating, but from stray genetic material that has somehow been passed biologically to new offspring.
There is a good discussion on how memories and stored in the brain here and also here.
A somewhat random collection of topics follows …
Do channellers and mediums/psychics really communicate with dead spirits or beings from other worlds? Great question. I have seen a number of well known channellers practising their art. The ones I have seen are good people making a positive contribution to society. However, it seems unlikely that these people really are in communication with beings from other worlds. Dual personalities are a real documented phenomena, and it is quite possible that two or more personalities have developed in their brain, and they genuinely are not aware of this. The personality/ego is something we develop during early life in the DMN (we’ve talked lots about this in previous pages). The brain has two halves and it is possible that personalities could develop independently in each of the two hemispheres. The location of the ego lies on the boundary between the limbic and conscious brain, leading to the possibility of separate personalities in the two regions – one under more conscious control than the other. The repressed personality could have developed early in life, or it could actually be residual memories inherited from their parents DNA. It is known that some simple memories like fear of spiders and snakes, or phobias about heights or water seem to be passed from generation to generation. Perhaps it is possible for more complex memory patterns to be passed on too. It has also been suggested that the two halves of our brains could be inhabited by two separate consciousnesses, who may or may not be amicable one one another (a real Jekyll and Hyde). It would be interesting to study this along with Siamese (conjoined) twins who have separate heads. Is there one soul per body, or one soul per brain, or one soul per split brain? So whilst I doubt that these people are channelling entities from the Pleiades or from the after-life, there is some real personality mechanism at work which is worthy of further investigation. The channellers I have met are genuine and honest people, and not out to deceive anyone. I don’t believe that having multiple personalities is of any advantage to acquiring enlightenment.
Should we fluoridate water to prevent tooth decay? This is another great controversial topic to research. It seems that small traces of fluoride in drinking water can strengthen tooth enamel and have a positive affect for the majority of the population. But fluoride is also a poison and some people are more sensitive to it than others. Opponents of fluoridation are quick to point out that uses for fluoride emerged out of research on what to do with toxic waste by-products of some industrial processes such as fertiliser. Being able to sell the toxic waste as a health supplement for drinking water was a great win for the capitalists (saved them having to find an alternate waste disposal solution for the toxins). Here we have a great moral dilemma. It is right to fluoridate water to improve the dental health of the majority of the population, knowing that it will adversely affect the health of a very small percentage of individuals? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Making fluoride supplements personal choice does not work for those who do not know or do not have the financial ability to purchase supplements. This is a great topic to research and exercise your higher mental faculties.
Are the stories about Jesus Christ true, and did he die on the cross and then rise from the dead? These questions cannot be answered from our own experience, and it happened so long ago that really there is no way for you to practically verify it yourself. The best you can do is go on other people’s historical accounts. If you want to exercise your mental faculties there are better things to research, though the books of Laurence Gardner on the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene are a good read.
What about Mary, Mother of Jesus, being a virgin? This claim was not uncommon – check out the other miraculous births. Not only was Jesus’s Mother supposed to be a virgin, but so were the Mother’s of Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster, Quetzalcoatl, Isaac (son of Sarah in Judaism), Rama, etc. It seems to have been a tradition for these great ancient leaders to claim birth from a virgin. All human conception requires sexual intercourse. However, the “purity” of some parents are better than others, and it may be that these women were chaste until their first sexual encounter with their future husband.
Does homeopathy work? This is an alternative form of medicine based on like cures like. Despite the wide range of homeopathic treatments available, traditional allopathic medicine does not believe there is any scientific basis for homeopathy. Many homeopathic remedies are prepared by continually diluting the source substance; for example Kali Phos 6C (phosphate of Potassium) means that it has been diluted to a level of 10^-12 (ten to the power of negative twelve), and 30C preparations are common at which dilution level there will be less than one molecule of the original substance present. Homeopaths say that the solution has captured the essence of the remedy; medical doctors say that that patients are drinking nothing but water or alcohol (brandy is often used for dispensing purposes). Yet homeopathic remedies DO seem to be effective for some people. I personally have found that certain Bach Flower remedies work for me. Medical trials consistently fail to prove they are better than a placebo. The placebo effect is itself fascinating, because it consistently results in a cure or improvement in a small percentage of patients higher who have received no treatment or pill. The mechanism is not well understood, but demonstrates that our own bodies and brains have the ability to repair and cure ourselves, even from seemingly terminal cases of cancer. In controlled trials, homeopathy seems to consistently result in an improvement for just a small percentage of people. This could mean that homeopathy works randomly for a small number of people some of the time (like a placebo), or it could mean that it works consistently for a small percentage of the population who are of a certain constitution (sattvic). I wouldn’t recommend seeking the services of a Homeopathic doctor if you have a broken arm, or a heart attack or a brain tumour or ebola. Natural remedies are worth consulting for the annoying issues like headaches, allergies, sleeping problems, etc, where you are likely to get a higher amount of attention and interest from a good homeopath or naturopath than you will from a normal medical doctor.
What is the placebo effect? A placebo is an ineffectual treatment (such as a sugar pill) for a disease, and is an important tool in the scientific method of providing a control when testing the effectiveness of a new medicine. Half the patients are given the new pill and the other half a placebo. If the new pill is effective we expect that half the patients will make a recovery. The placebo effect is interesting, because some patients given placebo’s also make a recovery! As Wikipedia says “the placebo effect points to the importance of perception and the brain’s role in physical health“. The mechanism by which the placebo effect works is not known, but it does show that we all have the power to heal ourselves if we really believe it. It could save a great deal of time, effort, pain and money if we could learn how to harness this power (and many big drug corporations would go out of business).
And now for a really difficult (and very relevant) question …
“I have been practising meditation and all the other recommended techniques for many years. I am diligently doing everything I’ve been told. Why aren’t I enlightened yet?”
A great question. If you have made time and changes for the spiritual aspect in your life and are feeling happier and healthier, it is quite possible that those around you are holding you back. Remember the adage “it is hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys“? Maybe it is time to withdraw from the world for a while and spend some time alone. If this does allow you to achieve a higher state of consciousness and you are able to maintain this state for a period of time, then you may be able to re-enter the world and help the people around you.