Re: BIBLE/BRAIN: Quantum computers

Scott A. Oakman (
Wed, 28 Aug 96 16:42:15 -0500

Bill Frix writes:
> Glenn Morton wrote on Mon, 26 Aug 1996
> > I would like to throw out something for discussion that I see may become
> > an issue within the lifetime of many here.
> >
> > A couple of months ago I was on a philosophy discussion group and we got
> > into the nature of the brain. This led to a discussion of computers. Some
> > people believe that the mind is a quantum computer.
> I got involved in this discussion of the brain as a computer in a
> Christian philosophy course at seminary where it seems the concept of
> the brain as a computer comes from the naturalistic view of the
> universe. That is, the concept comes stems from the belief (a
> priori) that thought processes are bio-chemical in origin (this view
> is supported by popular sci-fi such as Star Trek). As such, the
> concept of a spirit in persons is discounted at best, rejected at
> worst. Being also an electromagneticist by training, I would like
> to pose an alternative thought: the brain is not a computer but an
> antenna.

"Bio-chemical in origin" is far too simplistic an explanation for what goes on
in the brain. It's like considering everything my computer does as being
"simply V=IR"--a technically true, but horribly incomplete description. The
first thing I learned in graduate school was "The brain is not the liver"--that
is to say, yes, biochemistry is certainly involved--but it is practically
meaningless apart from the context of the brain's biological structure
(anatomy), COMPLEX physiology, and most importantly, its *plasticity*--how it
changes in both over time and with experience. That said, I think that you
misrepresent modern neuroscience a bit. I suppose there are some reductionist
folks who would like to do away with the idea of "spirit", but you dismiss (a
priori!) too much biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology in your efforts to
defend it.

I have to agree that with respect to the spiritual, the human brain IS a kind of
antenna--after all, without it how could we hear from God, consider Him, or
respond to Him? But I disagree with the dualism that you seem to be proposing
where *all* thoughts and feelings originate in the spirit. What is left for the
brain to do in your model, if all thought processes and feeling originate
externally? A major problem I have with your model, at least as you describe it
so far, is that I believe it lends itself to various types of New Ageish
dualisms in which the "mind" is somewhere "out there"--separate and dissociable
from the body/brain, generating "energy fields" and such.

Your model doesn't mention the biblical concept of "soul", which I think of as
being equivalent to mind or psyche, and *maybe* to the biblical "heart".
Perhaps you lump all these references in under "spirit", but I think that that
is incorrect. I've been pondering this for some time now, and still wouldn't
say I've come up with anything definitive, but I'm inclined to the tripartite
Body/Soul/Spirit concept, with Soul being those mental processes and functions
that the brain produces. (And after 6 years in this program I'd really have to
admit that I think that that accounts for almost *all* mental
functions--certainly cognition and emotions).

Finally, one comment about Star Trek--which I love, at least until Beverly
starts waving her "magic sensor wand" and measuring "neurotransmitter levels".
PLEASE don't judge what real scientists believe or don't believe about the brain
based on treatments of the subject in the popular culture--unless you're willing
to think that treatments of *Christianity* in those same popular media also
always represent the true beliefs and feelings of real Christians!

> Suppose all thoughts, feelings, etc. originate, not in bio-chemical
> reactions, but in the spirit. The nervous system (including the
> brain and the associated, distributed nerves) is tuned to an
> individual spirit, much as an electromagnetic antenna can be tuned
> to a unique frequency. The physical condition of the body influences
> the receptiveness of the nervous system to its unique spirit, much
> as environmental conditions can detune an electromagnetic antenna. Of
> course, the nervous system is a bi-directional antenna: both
> receiving thoughts from the spirit and sending stimulai to the
> spirit.
> How would we prove such a proposition? Proof of an antenna's
> existence is shown by removing the electromagnetic signal/path from
> the antenna structure by blocking or jamming. Probably, attempting
> to do so with the "brain antenna" would result in separating the body
> from the spirit (i.e., death). The normal method of proof would
> result in mass murder.

I have plenty of anecdotal evidence of my own "antenna" being jammed--whether by
sin or stubbornness. Other "jamming" influences might be something like
clinical depression, wherein normal desires for fellowship with God are blocked
due to malfunctioning neural circuits (precise nature of circuits still unknown,
but apparently "resettable" by pharmaceuticals that act on various biogenic
amine neurotransmitter systems...), or direct demonic activity.

> But, on a philosophical note, consider the implications. First,
> there would be no struggle between science and religion because the
> existence of the brain and its necessity would be assured, as well
> as the existence of the spirit. The 'phantom limb' problem of
> naturalistic philosophy would be resolved: the 'spirit wave' would
> continue to exist, even though it's 'antenna receptor' was absent.
> (For those not familiar with the phantom limb problem, when a limb is
> amputated from a person, the person reports an awareness of the limb
> remains, complete with the ability to use the absent limb.)

Actually, the "phantom limb problem" really is not a problem for neuroscience at
all. There was a good treatment of this phenomenon in _Scientific American_ in
1993 or so. Briefly, what happens is that the somatosensory system of the
cortex is something like a map: Normal neural activity from a limb, for
example, arrives in a specific area of cortex. When that area of cortex signals
other areas of the brain, such as association cortex, the activity is
"interpreted" as representing stimulation of that limb. However, if the limb is
no longer there, other neural fibers will begin encroaching on the "vacated"
space of this cortical map with *their* firing being interpreted as sensation in
that limb. It is a matter of the brain having "learned" that certain inputs in
certain areas mean specific things. A similar phenomenon is that of referred
pain--such as feeling a heart attack as sharp pain radiating down the left arm.
The heart has few pain receptors, but these few synapse in the cervical and
thoracic spinal cord onto the same spinal cord neurons that relay pain sensation
from the left arm. The intense firing of the heart's nerve fibers excites these
neurons in the spinal cord and they relay the activity to areas of the
somatosensory cortex associated with the left arm.

> As such,
> prosthetics could possibly be developed to communicate with this
> 'spirit wave', assuming we understand how the body 'receives' spirit
> signals. Likewise, diseases such as cerebral palsy would be seen,
> not so much as a defective brain but a detuned receiver; the cure
> would be to retune the spirit.

My experience with CP patients suggests that many of them are better in tune
with their spiritual aspects of being than are many of us with "intact" brains.
OTOH, their brains often deprive them of the ability to communicate or act upon
the "signals" they receive.

> Paranormal and metaphysical
> phenomena, such as telepathy, could be explained as a nervous system
> that is able to 'change its tuning', being capable of picking up
> multiple 'spirit signals'. There is another paranormal effect (I
> don't know how to spell it - something like the Kirelitch images??),
> whereby ghostlike images have been observed and photographed around
> persons, that could easily be explained by this explanation.
> Finally, prayer and communion with God is more easily explained by a
> spirit that has been tuned to the the 'Divine Frequency' than by a
> bio-chemical reaction.
> Well, these are my musings on the subject. Any comments?

A few...but you've read most of them already. How about a little summary--a
statement of faith, if you will:
I believe 1) that the Image of God breathed into us is spirit--that which makes
humans spiritual beings as well as intellectual/emotional beings and physical
beings; 2) that it is that spirit which interacts with our soul and body to
allow us access to God, and God access to us; 3) that our spirits are immortal
(but see below*), and that at death our souls--our memories, personalities,
etc.--are finally fully transformed and *made* immortal and compatible with our
glorified Resurrection bodies; and 4) that there is no possible way "under the
sun" that this can be scientifically proven, or for that matter, even examined.

*BTW--I don't believe in an *eternal* soul. I believe God foreknows us, but i
don't believe that entails pre-existance--and I don't know of any Scripture that
teaches that human souls have an existance prior to the womb. (And I'm not
going to *touch* the question of "just *when* in the womb?"!!!)

I'm open to other ideas, but this is what I've mused together so far... I look
forward to your assessments of any heresies I may have committed, intentionally
or unintentionally. (Please be quiet when you come to drag me out of my bed at
night--I wouldn't want you to wake the children. There's plenty of lighter
fluid in the garage, but you'll need to bring your own firewood.)

Enuf for now,


Scott Oakman Graduate Program in Neuroscience
University of Minnesota MD/PhD Program
Man wonders over the restless sea, the flowing water, the sight of sky,
and forgets that of all wonders man himself is the most wonderful.
--Augustine of Hippo