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By DAVID KERANEN
Stafford Betty writes in his March 1 Community Voices article ("The brain and the self: Partners in a dance") that "If philosophers would examine with care the vast range of paranormal phenomena, from the near-death experience to deathbed visions to spirit communication, many would retreat from their unexamined conclusions."
Notice the negative connotations of the words "examine with care" and "unexamined conclusions." In other words, philosophers and neuroscientists are inept and lack the ability to carefully examine the dubious experiences that primarily come from the big five of paranormal "research." Those being: near-death experiences, deathbed visions, children who "remember" past lives, apparitions and "legitimate mediums."
To propose that humans have a soul, whatever that is, is an extraordinary claim, and as Carl Sagan has said: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." If there were extraordinary evidence for any of the big five mentioned above, paranormal psychology could possibly move to the front rank of scientific knowledge instead of whiling away its time in the back room. Nobody knows whether we have a soul. It may be comforting to believe this, however it may just be wishful thinking to help relieve the angst of our existence.
Psychologist Julian Jaynes speculated on consciousness. For example, by his concept, humans have consciousness and dogs do not. What? Surely my dog Spot is conscious when he is awake, looking at me and wagging his tail. Consciousness to Jaynes is not just being awake and reactive, but involves language and introspection. Spot does not have language as we know it, and it is doubtful that he has much, if any, introspection.
Early humans had primitive language but little introspection. They are called bicameral because it is theorized that, when in a stressful situation, they were receiving auditory and/or visual signals from the right hemisphere to the left. As they developed more language and introspection, they interpreted these voices as coming from God, or the gods. Consider Yahweh in the Garden of Eden or Moses on the mountaintop. This introspection of an interior mind space "I," along with the mystery of dreams, helped lead to the invention of the soul.
These voices may have evolved because of the survival benefits they incurred. In an ancient primitive brain, signals may have crossed from one side to the other when danger was perceived, and eventually over time our two-hemisphere brain emerged. The voices can be traced in various ancient sources such as "The Iliad," "The Odyssey" and the Hebrew Scriptures. However, most of this has been lost as the human brain changed, but vestiges remain even today in hallucinations, third man factors, schizophrenia and glossolalia.
The bicameral Greeks in "The Iliad" obeyed explicitly the commands of the gods, but less so in "The Odyssey" as introspection started to grow. Odysseus could argue with the gods, outwit the Cyclops on his journey back to Ithaca, and trick the suitors of his wife, Penelope.
The voice of God was disappearing in the Hebrew Scriptures as you go from the early writings to the later ones.
In Genesis, God was walking and talking with the Hebrews, but later the Psalmist was struggling out of his bicameralism to a modern mentality when pleading, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?" Consequently, the Hebrews started to use sortilege and other forms of magic to divine the will of God.
Humans were no longer bicameral, but modern, with the ability to introspect, lie, deceive and invent fantastic concepts of reality known as religions. Today, in our confusion or reverence for existence, we still seek the "lost voices" whether we realize it or not, and Betty's article is no exception.
David M. Keranen is a retired Bakersfield College mathematics professor. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.