The Mind and the Brain

Elsa-Brita Titchenell

For years biologists and neurophysiologists have been tracking the elusive human mind by examining the functions of the brain and trying to make the connection between the ongoing phenomena of mentation, creativity, and judgment, and the physical organ in which these properties are believed to inhere. Dr. Matti Bergstrom is Professor Emeritus of Physiology at the University of Helsingfors, Finland, and docent of Bioelectronics at Helsingfors Technological Institute. He is a member of the Finnish Academy of Sciences and of the World Academy of Arts and Science and a prolific author of works on neurophysiology, most of them in Swedish.

In his latest work, Hjarnans resurser — en bok om ideernas ursprung ("The Brain's Resources — a Book about the Origin of Ideas" by Matti Bergstrom, Seminarium Forlag, Jönköping, Sweden, 1990.) His primary theme is the paucity in modern society of ethical values and the need for them in human life. Of the two main sources of activity in the brain he dubs the brainstem, which receives sensory stimuli, the "chance generator" while the cortex translates experience into rational information. Between these sources of conscious activity lies an electrical field and in that field "where order and disorder meet is the seat of the ego, the subjective 'I' that governs our behavior" (p. 27) and selects its course of action.

He makes an eloquent plea for recognition of the childlike approach to nature as an ensouled whole, wherein all beings are endowed with consciousness and accepted as vital parts of that whole, an attitude which has long been disallowed by materialistic science. He is himself hampered, however, by the scientific limitations which constrain him to attribute to the psyche properties which are really noetic (spiritual) in character.

I think the reason we despoil nature is that we have abandoned the childhood belief that nature is ensouled. The customary argument that children cannot understand things aright does not hold true, . . . We need to incorporate in our thinking the child's approach. Only then can we have a complete view of nature.
The idea that only we humans have a soul is an egoistic, anthropocentric view similar to racist bigotry: we belittle all that is different from ourselves. Where is the boundary between us and "soulless" nature? — p. 31

Two of the properties of mankind championed by Dr. Bergstrom are creativity and the assessment of values. Both are in his thesis attributed to the central egoic field where the sensory chaotic impressions of the primitive brainstem meet the rational information-gathering activity of the cortex, to produce the evaluating selective faculty of the ego.

Contrasting the analytical, dissociative theories of natural selection with what he terms "natural collection" which he postulates as an important axiom of futurology, he makes a powerful case for a more balanced education of children, which would take into account the child's natural need of more play and less of studied information. In other words the cortical activity has been overemphasized at the price of severe loss of judgment and creativity. Art is shown to be an important part of growth and the freer the better.

Although eschewing philosophy as part of a scientific investigation, the author states:

The value, significance of all this begins to become apparent: we evolve in order to unite the world we live in into a wholeness. . . . This is why the unifying force, the collective principle . . . assumes ever greater importance in our lives. It becomes apparent in our thirst for peace, accord, and harmony, goodness, a social and religious paradise, love of our fellow humans and nature and an ensouling of nature. . . . Even in our science we wish more and more to be rid of one-sided analysis, divisiveness and disjointed knowledge to create instead a method of research that tends toward synthesis and holism, wholeness and cohesion, where values can coexist without battling each other. We increasingly want the selective forces to serve the collective. — pp. 147-8

Dr. Bergstrom does not hesitate to tackle the intangible subject of intuition. He associates it with the corpus callosum which separates and connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, where he places the "I" in an individual, and where the holistic right-brain dynamism encounters the information-laden products of the left hemisphere. Here new information arises from the interaction, "causing creative evaluation to take place, coordinating holistic imagery with detailed logic, esthetics with knowledge, mysticism with conviction" (p. 183).

There is an all-too-common assumption that whatever is not physical must ipso facto be spiritual, though it stands to reason that if our familiar matter is indeed a small segment in a vast or infinite range of vibratory frequencies, then we must recognize that while there are octaves superior to what we know as matter, there must exist also ranges of substances that are "inferior" to the physical. Metaphysical realities beyond our cognition must extend in both directions, both "above" and "beneath" the matter with which we deal in the physical world. The dark matter postulated by astronomers is not to be relegated to merely the upper end of the gamut but must extend indefinitely throughout a continuum embracing our visible world within and as a narrow cross section of it.

It is questionable if the soul and spirit of humankind can be found by researchers to inhere in the brain at all. More likely is Dr. Bergstrom's conclusion that the higher principles of the human individuality inhere in a psychoelectrical field, surrounding and extending to some undetermined distance from the brain.

Dr. Bergstrom refers to a massive array of works by such forward-looking thinkers as Prigogine, Pribram, Sheldrake, and Sperry, and includes an impressive list of his own writings and lectures at prestigious conferences all over the world.

Hjarnans resurser is a persuasive document and should be required reading for scientists who aim to understand the human place in our planet's life. This reviewer can only hope that it will be translated into English for the benefit of the many who are not conversant with Swedish.

The outcome of his research is brought into focus as a clear demand for a more spiritual, holistic outlook, where sympathy and compassion take the place of competitive aggression and the human race is seen as a whole, an agent in a living world having many parts, all of which can and should cooperate to integrate its separate units in a vital whole. He relies on brain research to support this theme: that we have an enormous responsibility for ourselves and our lives as we must always be able to renew our values, whether commonplace or divine, and concludes with the words: "Only in this manner can we arrive at a valid and complete world view wherein we are a part" (p. 193).

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press)

Theosophical University Press Online Edition