Chapter 1: The realm of physicality
Let’s start out simple. The physical brain. That thing that’s in our heads right? Only it’s not really just in your head. Your brain is spread out throughout your entire body. Nerves from your toes all the way up to the top of your head. Your entire nervous system is clearly interlinked and every part works together. It is all one big brain system.
This nervous system intertwines with pretty much everything in your body. Your muscles would be nothing without your brain. they’re directly controlled by the same type of electric pulses that make you think or act. There’s even a thing called muscle memory. Your muscles remember things. They remember movements amongst other things. I don’t know if you could call them a part of your brain, but they’re definitely an extension of it. Just look at someone in a wheelchair. Once the nerval connection is destroyed, muscles completely lose their function and start to wither away.
How about your organs? Your kidneys for example. Surely those aren’t part of your brain right? Well… Did you know your brain can store memories in them? There’s documented cases of people receiving organ transplants that altered their behavior. Vegans turning meat lovers after receiving a foreign organ. People that suddenly had memories they knew couldn’t be theirs. Behaviors and memories that after researching turned out to have belonged to their anonymous donors. It’s something called cell memory.
I’m pretty sure you’d classify behavior and memory as something your brain does right? Organs seem to be involved in both. So what? Is the entire body part of the brain now?
I’m not sure. No one is.
There is no division between your physical body and your psyche. There is no reason to believe that there is something inside us that is somehow completely separate from everything else. Everything is dependent on each other.
So your brain basically is your entire body? Well, this is where the bizarre truly starts. You have any special songs? Maybe the one they played at your father’s funeral? Maybe during your first kiss? Maybe just a song that is somehow anchored to certain events in your life. A song that triggers emotions every time you listen to it? How about a special place? Maybe a secret spot you used to play as a kid? The place where you first fell in love? How about where you were when the twin towers fell? (More on 9/11 later on in this book when we get truly weird).
There’s research that indicates our brains outsource parts of our memories to our environments. Think about it. It’s hard to really recall how it felt to be a kid. Yet, when you go revisit that secret spot of yours, you instantly feel like a kid again. You just feel it. You want to go play in trees again and built a fortress somewhere.
Same happens with people. Imagine you were to have a reunion with your teenage friends after not seeing each other for years. All of a sudden you’re all 15 again. Everyone will instantly go back into their old pattens and roles again. Something you couldn’t do if you tried right now.
You may be thinking: “Yeah sure, but that’s still the brain in my body doing those things.” Is it though? Would you still be able to recall how it felt to be a little kid if your secret spot is destroyed? Could you still act like your 15 year old if all the places and people of those days were gone? Is it possible that your brain truly somehow places these memories outside your body? Does everyone you interact with and everywhere you go somehow become part of your brain? These are honest questions from my end. Nobody knows these things for sure.
So what is our physical brain? Is it that blob in our head that’s works like a motherboard? Is it the entire nervous system like some sort of CPU? Is it the entire body acting like storage space? Or is it even the world we interact with? Like some sort of external harddrive?
And we’re not even going into the implications of plugging ourselves into computers here. For most of us, our cellphones and our computers have become part of our brains. Very curious how that’s going to play out for us in the future.
There’s another thing that makes it complicated to know what the brain is exactly. There isn’t just one brain. There’s several systems we can identify that operate quite independently, yet at the same time are all somehow interlinked. You can move your arm quite independently from your breathing. However, these two do influence each other.
The more you study the brain, the more it starts to resemble a patchwork IT system. As we evolved, we just kept adding new parts to our brain. We’re now like some flunky computer where some parts use the latest software whereas other parts still run on MS DOS. Our brain even seems to have conversion programs in place that let these different systems communicate with each other (in a sometimes very inefficient way). The ego comes to mind as a great example of such a converter.
The (semi)autonomous way in which these systems function can also lead to conflicts in the brain. Easy example is when your muscular and cardio vascular systems are telling you to stop running, but you consciously really want to finish the race.
It gets complex once different thinking systems start disagreeing with each other. Consciously you know that dessert is a bad idea. Yet, you still crave it. There’s another thinking system in there that thinks that dessert is a great idea.
Seeing these internal conflicts play out in people is fascinating. Ever seen a woman trying to decide whether to buy those shoes for what seems like an hour? You know she’s going to end up buying them anyways (More on this later).