Human brain and consciousness

Yesterday I was talking with an old friend, discussing the age-old and widely debated concept of souls,or atmas as commonly known in Hindi. As usual I was quite overwhelmed listening his strong views and belief regarding the existence of souls. And being a strong atheist I beg to differ 🙂 , and here is what I think based on some research and my current understanding of the human brain  and consciousness.

50,000 years of modern human evolution and multiple genetic mutations which helped us reach the current evolutionary stage might have been the seeding thoughts forcing us to imagine a powerful force behind creation, something which cannot be defined or can has multiple forms overseeing us and nature. The seemingly complex nature and behavior of natural systems around us, including the way our brain works, can be a reason why still most of us believe in spirituality, if not the religious definition of GOD.

Just think on it, throughout the modern human history (last 5,000 years) we have followed a certain pattern with diligence: if we could not comprehend some natural event or occurence, we imagined a force behind it (aka GOD) and assumed this force controlled everything, including us. Going against Occam’s Razor was easy, gave us a peace of mind, and a possible answer to some of the curious brains. But few of us dared to think, go against the tide, discover and invent new new things, and many times their discoveries and inventions went against the pre-conceived notions of the world around us, making some of us feel very uncomfortable with the “new ideas”. As humans, it is natural for most of us to settle down with our beliefs, and resist change. In simpler terms, most of us would instinctively resist a radical change. This may be due a “safety-switch” evolutionary pre-programmed in us which prevents us from taking big risks. We don’t like to accept new theories, ideas or anything that changes our current thought process radically. This mental inertia is an integral part of human nature, a speed breaker to creative reasoning.

Coming back to the topic of this post, since thousands of years we formulated and belived in the concept of a soul. And many of us still do, no matter how many scientific and rational explanations exist invalidating such a concept. Does it exist or not, is a question which is better answered by studying how our brain works, and what exactly is consciousness.

From whatever little understanding of human brain we have, we know that our brain is inter-connected with billions of cells called neurons, which are, in simple terms cells carrying ions. These cells have a special property: they can get “charged” and transmit electrical signals to other neurons via complex neurological pathways. Each neuron will only transmit a signal to the other neuron once its threshold has been reached. So basically if the neuron has a certain amount of charge on it, only then will it let the electrical signal to pass through. This works just like any electrical circuit, for example, when you switch on your light bulb, it instantly lights up. In this case charge is travelling using electrons, which are much lighter than ions. That is why normal electrical signals using electrons are way faster than our electro-chemical signals where charge travels as ions. And that is why we cannot think “as fast as a computer” 🙂

Now an interesting property of moving charges is that they generate an electro-magnetic field (EMF), be it electrons or ions like in our brain. So any electrical movement through neurons inside our brain is bound to generate an electro-magnetic (EM) field. This is roughly what we can call as consiouness. If you shut down this EM field, your consciousness too shuts down, and you would be brain-dead, even though you could be living (for example, a patient in deep state coma).

(to be continued..)

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