The Mind of God: Neuroscience, Faith, and a Search for the Soul

The Mind of God: Neuroscience, Faith, and a Search for the Soul

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553418699
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 09/11/2018
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 412,351
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Dr. Jay Lombard, a Board-certified Neurologist, is the co-founder, chief scientific officer, and medical director for Genomind, a precision medicine company for patients with psychiatric and neurological conditions. The company is committed to discovering the underlying causes of neuropsychiatric disorders, and supports the development of personalized medicine for clinical practice. Dr. Lombard has developed a genetic diagnostic test, and has been granted several patents for biomarker diagnostics in psychiatry and neurology. The technology he developed has been regarded by several key opinion leaders as one of the most significant breakthroughs in psychiatry.

Read an Excerpt

1

The Mind of God

If we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason--for then we should know the mind of God.

--Stephen Hawking1

It was 1990 and I was in the beginning of my neurology residency. Under the bright fluorescent lights of the pathology lab at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, I stared at the specimen that shimmered slightly on the cutting board. I had examined several brains by then, but this one looked different. At first I couldn’t put my finger on why.

The brains had been culled from the crop of patients who’d died that week at our busy hospital. The neuropathologist had laid out the brains meticulously, stems and all, in front of us medical residents as she did weekly. Her first task was to weigh this particular brain, and it came in at a mere 1,005 grams, a good 10 percent smaller than normal. I peered down at the label on the cover of the clinical report--Female, 5, Haemophilus meningitis. My stomach sank.

It was a child’s brain.

I wasn’t prepared for that. This was the first pediatric brain I’d seen up close. What made my immediate task particularly difficult was that I knew whose brain it was. The brain belonged to a little girl named Sarah. I’d seen her only days earlier in the pediatric intensive care unit. A wave of sorrow washed over me, yet I felt another emotion, too--wonder. Sheer wonder. In front of me was the epicenter of Sarah’s existence. Every thought this beautiful little girl had ever thought, every dream she’d ever dreamed, every hope for a bright and promising future had seemingly originated in this mass of protoplasm. I had to go forward. As is often necessary in my profession, I needed to check these emotions and steel myself for the business at hand. But my mind was on fire. Filled with questions that had no immediate answers.

When we examined this poor child’s brain, we found widespread inflammation of the meninges, the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. From her cranial nerves to the base of her spinal cord, we discovered the remnants of the extreme inflammation that had occupied her skull. Sarah had died of textbook meningitis.

Sarah had had no prior medical history of meningitis, but that didn’t surprise me. I knew the disease’s onset can be almost apocalyptic. One day Sarah had been a perfectly healthy five-year-old playing at home with her family. The next day she’d experienced a headache that progressively grew worse. The headache was accompanied by fatigue, fever, nausea, and a general sense of unwellness. Her parents had given her Children’s Tylenol initially and kept her home. (We’ve all felt these symptoms from time to time, and there didn’t seem to be any reason for alarm.)

But when Sarah didn’t get better after a day, her parents called their pediatrician, who recommended they take Sarah to the emergency room. No one knew at that point that Sarah was teetering at the door of death. Unfortunately, it proved only a short and tragic hop from the ER to the ICU, where Sarah quickly went downhill. Various tests were rapidly performed there in an attempt to find a solution. Then came a sudden attack. Within Sarah’s medical records I read the frantic and heartbreaking attempts at resuscitation.

Patient coded at 4:35 A.M. CPR performed for 45 mins. Epinephrine, dopamine, & external pacemaker. Unable to establish pulse or maintain BP. Patient declared at 5:18 A.M. Attending physician and family notified. 

The words trailed off in my mind. This was finally how Sarah--her brain, at least--had come to the basement path lab. To me.

I went back to the task at hand. As I sliced into Sarah’s brain, I marveled at how it was still a fleshy pink in parts--and that juxtaposition of pink, girlish life against the gray death of sliced brain matter struck me anew as an incomprehensible paradox. I stared at pieces of the brain, and the big questions of life flooded over me even in the midst of my dissection. Could the gross flesh of Sarah’s brain really have possessed the whole elaborate fabric of Sarah’s very being--her emotions, memories, hopes, and all the intangibles of her existence? To think that this little girl ate, slept, dreamed, imagined, laughed, told jokes, hugged her parents, and formulated her entire conception of the world around her owing to the power of this mere blob of meat. Surely residing within or perhaps beyond the organ of the brain was something greater, an immaterial primary essence of a person that still survived.

The light above me flickered in the path lab, threatening to darken the table, the brain in front of me. I considered how billions of people cling to the idea of some kind of afterlife.2 Perhaps they are simply deluded or in denial. But what if they aren’t? What if an afterlife is actually plausible? What if we could create a case for it using the rigors of science?

My questions didn’t stop there.

Here I was, a young physician beginning his life’s work in a world of objectivity, only evaluating things I could quantify, and I was faced with life’s biggest queries: Was there some other truth I needed to find for myself? Surely there had to be something greater to the end of a human being’s life than what Hamlet would call “bestial oblivion.” But what was this “something greater”? And could I reconcile it with what I knew of science?

What Made Sarah Sarah?

Fast-forward nearly three decades since that day in the path lab. I find myself still a neurologist steeped in neuroscience, still actively engaged in a concrete world of measurements and data. Yet those questions about something existing beyond flesh and form still persist.

Simply put, neuroscience is the study of the brain--it is the portal through which we can discover, in the brain’s formerly fathomless code, the true nature of our being. Yet we are much more than mere intellect, more than human computers who make decisions. The more I’ve discovered about the living brain, the more secrets I’ve unearthed about the nature of human beings, the universe, the purpose of our lives, and the possible existence of something beyond all of this. For me, neuroscience isn’t just the study of the brain; it is a tool by which we can make the invisible visible. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his masterpiece The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”3 No truer words have ever been written. Through an exploration of our brains, we can discover more about the nature of faith, belief, and hope. Thus, there is logical and rational evidence that can help us answer the big questions of life.

In the pages to come, I want to take you on a cerebral journey--both literal and figurative--into the depths of the mind, to explore the most important questions about life and how neuroscience may help answer them:

1. Is there a God?

2. Do humans have souls?

3. Are we special? (Meaning, are humans any different from other animals?)

4. Do we have free will--or is all of life predetermined for us?

5. What’s the meaning of life, and is there any higher purpose for our existence?

6. Since evil exists so prevalently in the world, can there be such a thing as a good God?

7. Is there life after death?

  

These are questions that have long challenged me to search for answers. Certainly, many contemporary neuroscientists will disagree with my conclusions; they’ll argue, for instance, that a person’s consciousness--the implicit and yet ubiquitous “awareness of being”--comes down to neurological switches that are flipped on or off, as in an electrical engineering circuit. For many of these intelligent men and women, whatever happens in our mental state is purely a function of physical (neuronal, biological, or electrochemical) reactions. The general belief among scientists, doctors, and other medical professionals is that we are purely material, with no soul to speak of beyond the elementary particles of chemistry and biology. The majority of neuroscientists assert that there is no physical evidence of an existence beyond the flesh, that any person’s subjective sense of self as a soul or immaterial being is an illusion, a simulation designed to hide the actual backroom computations and neuronal workings of our brains.

Yet when discussing these topics with my colleagues, many of the most humble recognize there are gaps in conventional scientific thinking, spaces yet to be filled in the scientific world--and what can fill those gaps leads back to the reality of the intangible. These gaps are referred to as the “hard problem of consciousness,”4 a term coined by the eminent philosopher of mind David Chalmers to describe the vast chasm between the physical and the phenomenological, between the tangible senses and the suprasensory experience we have of them.

Let’s look at this a little more closely. While our brains are indeed biological, the experience generated by our brains--our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs--is beyond the observable and measurable. Our subjective perceptions, the qualitative and sentinel aspects of our being, cannot be merely by-products of neurochemical processes. “Even if it were able to map out the precise pattern of brain waves that underlie our subjective states, that mapping would only explain the physical correlate of experience, but it wouldn’t be them. A person’s experiences are as irreducibly real as her brain waves are, and different from them.”5 Or to paint another picture, if we are all fish in the fishbowl, how do we observe ourselves outside the fishbowl?

Consciousness is not something to be feared or dismissed. The Latin roots of the word consciousness mean “to know together” and hence this distinctly human attribute is a gift that provides us with the capacity to jointly inquire about the meaning of our existence. If we were able to unwrap this gift, we would see that the perceived gaps between flesh and spirit, mind and brain, hide a deeper, intrinsic, and fascinating reality. This reality is an experience of something ineffable--a mind, soul, spirit, or even energy--that which is both irreducibly complex and fundamental to our being.

Is it what made Sarah Sarah? What makes me me? What makes you you?

Faith in Science

Now, I am first and foremost a neurologist who is deeply vested in empirical data. I hold great faith in science. I, and millions of other physicians and scientists, have staked our professional careers on the integrity of the scientific method, which has proved to be extremely useful to help predict and manipulate natural, chemical, and biological phenomena. By no means do we want to ignore science in this process of discovery. To the contrary, we want to use science as a stepping-stone to learn and know and grasp all we can about who we are. I realize the very idea that truth can be found both “within” and “beyond” science can be difficult, if not impossible, for some people to grasp, particularly for us scientists--remember all those fish in the fishbowl. But with science, faith, and a little bit of reasoning, we can press our faces upon the glass and see that there is something beyond, and it’s extraordinary.

Science Is the Only Truth?

As I’ve alluded to earlier, there are many who believe that science is the only truth. Yet truth can be found both “within” science and “beyond” science. Truth can be found in philosophy, literature, art, music, and history. Truth can be found in the stuff of life that’s beyond what is fully measurable or seen. The famous physicist Max Planck expressed a similar sentiment: “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”6

In other words, fish in a fishbowl.

Some people will label these further forms of truth the same as faith, but I’m not completely comfortable with that term either. Faith is such a loaded word, so personal and charged, so full of various connotations. People talk about taking a blind leap of faith, or stepping out on faith into the great unknown. But that kind of faith is far too limited. The kind of faith I’m talking about in this book doesn’t ask us to suspend facts. By contrast, it calls us to examine the facts and then build upon them. The faith I’m talking about (if we even want to call it faith, but for argument’s sake we will) is a faith informed by science, measurability, and logic, not by blindness. This faith asks: What if there were actually very good reasons to believe in the intangible? What is faith? Faith means accepting that there is a greater reality beyond our senses and our intellect. We can use our intellect to instruct us on how we should live our lives, but faith teaches us about the meaning and purpose of our existence. What if there are very good reasons to hold to and live by the veracity of that which cannot be seen?

As a scientist and as a human being who has grappled with the meaning of faith in my own life and with many patients struggling to comprehend whether life has some deeper significance beyond the here and now, I believe it is possible to develop an appreciation of both the biological and the transcendent, and to explore how each can inform the other in positive ways. There must be a balance.

We must have science.

And we must have faith.

1. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 175.

2. Ipsos Global @dvisory, “Supreme Being(s), the Afterlife and Evolution,”http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/.

3. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, trans. Katherine Woods (1943; repr. Waterville, ME: Thorndike Press, 2005).

4. David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), xiii. Chalmers coined the term the “hard problem of consciousness” to describe the gap between materialism and consciousness. He writes that there is no nonphysical evidence for the existence of a soul.

5. “Thomas Nagel: Thoughts Are Real,” New Yorker, July 16, 2013; Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

6. Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and James Murphy, “Epilogue: A Socratic Dialogue,” in Where Is Science Going? The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics, trans. James Murphy (New York: W. W. Norton, 1932).

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Mind of God"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jay Lombard.
Excerpted by permission of Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Patrick J. Kennedy xv

1 The Mind of God 1

2 Does God Exist? 19

3 The Neuroscience of the Soul 46

4 The Evolution of Faith and Reason 68

5 What's the Meaning of Life? 86

6 Are We Free? 106

7 Do Good and Evil Actually Exist? 132

8 Immortality: The Remembrance of What Is 155

Notes 181

Acknowledgments 195

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The Mind of God: Neuroscience, Faith, and a Search for the Soul 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ChrisM65 More than 1 year ago
Dr. Lombard is my kind of behavior neurologist. As a self-described “neuroscience patient” who experienced a hemorrhagic stroke with pulmonary embolism in January 2013, I purchased a copy at Barnes and Noble a few days ago. The Mind Of God provides for me a helpful analysis of our common Left-Right brain GPS system. Schizophrenia became my only usable and useful working mind app. New and Old Testament visions, including a burning bush, were constant from my first seven days at Harlem Hospital (which I saw as one day) through my transfer 40 days at NY-Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Most neurologists dismissed my observations but I got lucky, a Michelangelo mural appeared, just like the cover of Lombard’s The Mind Of God. Biblical apparitions and Great Floods (mythological and scientific) made sense. I see God's Sistene surrounding ladies as science-induced mind field partners of theology dating back to Genesis Chapter 11, a Judeo-Christian guess or fact about destruction of a single global earthly language. My stroke-induced, unsteady, but extremely valuable left brain GPS guided me down a vibrant, colorful, entirely safe, 61 year old tunnel to my 1952 birth and day-by-day return to 2017. Most odd to me was not that I heard every radio, television broadcast, telephone conversation and word spoken to me during my life, but that I recalled not a single word spoken by me. Where possible, I have checked the verifiable precision of my distant memory. Because of my continuing patient recovery experience, I have become an advocate for deeper clinical study of brain “disorder.” Knowing that I am unusually blessed, according to my neurologist, to have mental guidance to determine reality from apparition, I consider my self-described mental “schizo app” to be an asset. I found Dr. Lombard’s The Mind Of God to be a possible hemorrhagic stroke recovery guide and a sound solid must-read for Ashante-Buddha-Christian-Druid-Hindu-Islam-Jew-Shinto-Yoruba-Atheist thinkers. The Mind Of God has a wholly scientific Hand Of God feel.