Mind / Brain Dualism (Why I don’t buy it and keep it out of my work)

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Mind, Memes, Myth- My Specific Approach to Magick, Uncategorized

Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Though I am a novice in occult work, at least the rigor I am currently trying to apply I am not a know-nothing.  A blank slate. A total idiot.

I have some major factors in my experience, which I would describe myself as having attained a certain amount of expertise, which contribute heavily to my occult work.

One of which is my Bachelors of Science in Neuroscience from the University of Texas at Dallas. My degree work went well beyond that of a normal bachelors, I worked in a lab which studied emotions where I helped design and execute experiments on emotional responses using Electromyography, ever heard of micro-expressions? I have worked on them. I have studied stress circuitry in pigs, and that circuit is in the VPN deep in the brain. I have installed machines in the brains of live rats to see how the chemical release we worked precisely into these devices, called canullae, influenced their behavior. I have radiolabeled enzymes and then made them do their behavior in vitro as they would in a living neuron to see what was involved in the biochemical cascade. In addition to that my hobby while I was pursuing this degree was reading on the neuroscience of the mind and consciousness, and can back my shit up with people like Damasio, Dennet, LeDoux, Pinker, etc.

I know, I know, Crowley is not listed above. But my point is, while I continue my study of Crowley (who I admire enough to be a paying member of his fan club) I make up for my ignorance of Crowley who did the bulk of his work before we discovered penicillin with some of the greatest brain scientist who have ever lived. Most of which were babies when Crowley died.

It seems to me many people in occult circles seem to have some ideas which contradict my scientific understanding of the mind (and therefore the brain).

  • One: The mind is a separate entity from the brain, probably exists in another state permanent, beyond the vulgar physical world.  This is called mind/brain dualism, and all my complaints follow from ideas that use this a premise.

Perhaps, I have occasionally entertained that the brain may work like some kind of antennae receiving some strange signal from weird atomic noise we have yet to decipher. But this is just speculation. I could also imagine there being a pre-incarnate/post-incarnate being, these are all dualistic musings. They may, in the end, turn out to be true.

But even if any of these are true, the correlation is a perfect 1:1 between the activity of the mind and the activity of the brain. And the brain is definitely necessary, if not sufficient, for consciousness and all phenomena that relates to consciousness.

The brain is what we can measure. The brain is the proof in the pudding. All discussions on the mind must be beholden to what is known empirically about the brain to have any kind of scientific logic behind them. And at this point of my development, especially with my scientific background, any discussion of mind which does not treat the measurable phenomena of the brain as central is poppycock, balderdash, nincompoopery.

  • Two:  The mind is somehow escapable to the trained magician or mystic. That one can experience anything beyond the reach of the mind (and for my understanding of mind; beyond the reach of the brain).

There are beautiful esoteric writings about escaping the mind. Silencing the mind, going past the mind. Buddhism is full of this kind of language. Crowley used it as well, which a Thelemite was kind enough to point out to me while shitting all over my writing and insinuating that I was so far behind in my ignorance that I had yet to even start the Great Work.

These writings on this mind, which is often equated with the ego, are usually related to being able to control focus. To prevent distraction.

In zen, the focus is on the breath. Your body in the present moment. If you attain this, they call it no-mind.

What a beautiful idea.

But in “no-mind” your mind is quite active.

Your propreoceptive brain centers would be highly activated. These areas are also cortical, the top of the brain, this means your conscious mind is very active.

If you achieve the A.’.A.’. initiation where you can sit in asana for 30 minutes with a saucer of water on your head you are using your mind. Quite strongly. If we measured your metabolic responses in your brain, through a brain scan (fMRI) your cortex would probably be more active than it is during normal decision making processes.

Work by neurologist Antonio Damasio suggests rather convincingly that what are normally thought to be purely unconscious processes (which I will still define as being within the mind) such as body awareness, proprioception, and even something as simple as nervous system activity in the periphery (not the brain) are essential parts of the conscious mind. One need only read his book “The Feeling of What Happens,” to understand why.

For the moment I have only one Crowley quote to provide, but I will reference it often.

“The whole of Yoga is to prevent the movement of the mind: all practices, etc., are mechanical aids to this end.” – The Master Therion 666, aka Aleister Crowley
I think this is a relatively good and useful description for what is actually happening when occultists, new agers, and mystics say they are beyond the mind. I would argue that they have simply attained an intense focus, or they are “preventing the movement of the mind.”
Don’t think I am trying to sell this idea short, or make it seem mundane or easy. I believe what follows for the magician who learns to prevent the movement of the mind is utter metamorphosis, the key to intense personal development and power.
Of course literally preventing the movement of the mind is technically impossible, since your neurons are shooting out little dendrites at a nanosecond time scale, since I am arguing your brain is your mind, then your mind is actively moving with every breath you draw.
Its a good thing I am not a Crowley dogmatist, or I may have just suffered an existential crisis.
Though don’t get me wrong, in Crowley’s days the existence of the neuron was a controversial theory. Crowley was an intellectual giant in his day, we have just moved way beyond in our understanding of neuroscience.
What is the real meat of the matter is the unconscious vs. conscious mind.
 When most occultists or mystics describe phenomena beyond the mind they are being dualistic. Its okay, many brilliant people are, David Chalmers is a notable example and he is a contemporary philosopher of mind.
However, I totally think this is bullshit.
Consciousness and unconsciousness and superconsciousness all exist in the brain, and do to the strange nature of neurological phenomena and experience, how peripheral and autonomic (unconscious nervous system function) affect what we cal the conscious mind, even these distinctions will likely become more and more blurry as new discoveries come in.
The most useful position to take, the most accurate based on modern empirical data, is that the mind is the brain. And if you are having any experience. If you have any awareness of anything, no matter how deep,  how transcendent, how free of mental imagery, you are using your brain.
Though relatively speaking, one can definitely prevent the movement of the mind.
When one is working on the Great Work, on Magick, on manifesting the Law of Thelema in one’s own life, some level of preventing the movement of the mind is fundamental.
What  got me so riled up on this issue was a commenter mentioned that I was basically totally failing in my pursuit of my True Will and HGA for use of language to describe them, and visualization for invocation and astral work. That these two issues are beyond the mind. Here is a link to that post if you are curious.
The visual cortex resides in the back of the brain,  it is a huge part of the brain and is heavily connected to all kinds of juicy regions. I would be impressed with the magician who has mastered “preventing the movement”  of the visual cortex” but other brain regions will kick in and provide information. If they are not doing this, congratulations you are dead.
Words are the babies of Broca’s area, and Wernicke’s area, left lateralized cortical regions, near the temporal lobe. If you are processing info about your True Will without using these linguistic regions or your visual cortex, double plus good, again very nice “preventing the movement” of major aspects of “the mind.” But most of that 3 pound organ will still be firing, still be providing and processing information, still active, still in control.
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Your brain is providing the experience. Therefore so is your mind.
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If you don’t grasp this, your work will be based on superstition. At least in part.
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If you think you are doing magickal work without your brain, let me know, I will try to set you up an experiment with the James Randi Educational Foundation, perhaps we can get you their 1 million dollar prize for scientific evidence of the supernatural.
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The experiment would be relatively easy, you would go into an fMRI (a brain scan machine) and your neurological behavior should remain at baseline in spite of whatever you are doing.
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Good fucking luck. Not going to happen.
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I think it behooves every occultist to undergo a serious study of neuroscience, to really understand how the brain works.  Read some of the authors I linked above. Many of them have Ted Talks and podcast interviews and all kinds of content.
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And perhaps most importantly how the brain deceives us, and how many evolutionary mechanisms which are ill suited for modernity are programmed into it.
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The brain is a machine, and in many ways an extremely primitive one.
Your memories are all imagined. Quite literally. Your brain will fill in the gaps if you lack perceptive input, routinely creating illusions and hallucinations. You are hard wired to make logical errors on many issues, especially the more they relate to procreation (since evolution is what wired your brain).
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It is extremely wise to try to get a modern, monist, scientifically based idea as to what Crowley meant when he said:
“The whole of Yoga is to prevent the movement of the mind: all practices, etc., are mechanical aids to this end.”
Of course some people are now saying, what does Yoga have to do with magick, astral projection, divination, etc? According to my understanding of Book 4, everything. Yoga is foundational, and for good reason.
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Your brain is a maelstrom, you may not be able to escape it, but you can always increase your control of it. I believe Thelema in particular, and magick in general are great tools for achieving potentially phenomenal levels of control of your own mind.
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And therefore your brain.
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A good understanding of the mind=brain formula understood by mundane scientists allow me to have strong parameters for my work. I practice an extremely practical and pragmatic magick, and I understand that the reshaping of my own brain is the pay off.
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If I were to fall into transcendental temptation and buy into feel-good theories that contradict the empirical evidence of how our minds (and therefore brains) work then I am likely to go into all kinds of rabbit holes of self-delusion.
I can’t say this will happen to others, but it has already happened to me. After 5 years of fundamentalist christianity, where I was totally ignorant of my own biological nature, my brain’s self sabotaging aspects, and the brain as an organ that needs to be exercised and trained I was in a la la land of self deception.
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Knowing about my brain, and how it factors into my Magickal work allows me to have it on my workman’s table, to reshape it. To make it serve my Will.
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Though I can’t stress enough, in spite of my moderately combative tone, what is working for you is what is working for you. To me this is what Thelema is all about, and I don’t presume to persuade anyone to stop doing what is truly best for them.
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These are just my thoughts based on my own research and experiences.
Love is the Law. Love under Will.
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Comments
  1. mindcore says:

    Sorry about the “*” WordPress was not letting me space my paragraphs how I wanted in th elatter half.

  2. IAO131 says:

    93 – Nice. Im glad someone else is pursuing this line of thought. I was especially impressed when Crowley, writing in the early 20th century, wrote of Samadhi or enlightenment, “We assert that the critical phenomenon which determines success is an occurrence in the brain characterized essentially by the uniting of subject and object.” Even then he was taking a materialist approach that used a justification or understanding of the characteristics through phenomenology (i.e. the subjective sense of uniting of subject and object). Its possible the brain process or mechanism responsible for this unitive experience could be isolated and potentially manipulated – that is, we may one day be able to artificially stimulate this process/circuit/area and create the experience. Whether this is desireable or not is another question but the fact that Crowley himself formulated an understanding of this process in a way that modern science could be of use is, I think, something that distinctly separates him from 99% of all other occultists who ever lived. 93 93/93

  3. Eric says:

    “But even if any of these are true, the correlation is a perfect 1:1 between the activity of the mind and the activity of the brain. And the brain is definitely necessary, if not sufficient, for consciousness and all phenomena that relates to consciousness.

    The brain is what we can measure. The brain is the proof in the pudding. All discussions on the mind must be beholden to what is known empirically about the brain to have any kind of scientific logic behind them. ”

    I think you have a problem when you say that there’s a 1:1 correlation between the mind and the brain, and then you rule out all measurements other than brain. Of course if that’s your technique then you will get 1:1! You’re ruling out any possibility of it being otherwise and then calling that objective.

    • Los says:

      Eric writes: “I think you have a problem when you say that there’s a 1:1 correlation between the mind and the brain, and then you rule out all measurements other than brain.”

      It’s not that naturalists “rule out” all other measurements — it’s that we draw conclusions from the evidence that we have. And the evidence that we have — for example, that alterations to the brain affect consciousness, to the point that damage to the brain can sometimes completely change or reverse personalities, that consciousness seems to stop working when the brain stops working, that there’s no indication that any kind of consciousness can work without a brain, etc. — points in a rather overwhelming fashion to the idea that consciousness is an emergent property of what brains do.

      Of course you can come up with unfalsifiable, idle speculation that paints consciousness as somehow not dependent on brains, but until there’s some evidentiary support for such a point of view, the correct position is to support the one that the evidence very strongly suggests: naturalism.

  4. mindcore says:

    Well Los, it seems today we are on a wavelength. This is my second time in 10 minutest that I find myself in strong agreement with you.

    I will write again about mind stuff. I am also eager to here your opinion on this Ruach and Neshamah stuff which I think lies at the root of our argument. Thinking of it this way I think allows me to see your original point about transcending the mind.

    Of course at this point, and I just say this for the benefit of other readers, the original argument had an issue on the semantics of the word mind.

  5. Eric says:

    Sure, as if the naturalist explanation for an NDE isn’t approaching being unfalsifiable. The features of hypoxia presenting what would otherwise be strong brain activation in many areas. That’s ‘scientific’

  6. Eric says:

    In addition, I’m sure you have a naturalist explanation as to intentionality in the first place, right?

    • Los says:

      Let’s get something straight here: we don’t need to know everything in order to reject a claim as insufficient.

      If I don’t have a good explanation for where my socks go when I lose them, it doesn’t follow that the claim, “Well, a leprechaun must be stealing them” automatically becomes any more likely to be true.

      In a similar way, even if we don’t have a perfect understand of the exact causes of NDEs, that doesn’t mean that some supernatural explanation is any more likely to be true. Further, even if we don’t perfectly understand exactly how consciousness arises and how “intentionality” arises, that doesn’t mean that a supernatural explanation becomes any more likely.

      The fact still remains that we know that natural things exist and that no one has ever demonstrated the existence of anything supernatural — the advantage is still toward the side that we *know* is real.

      Further, what we know about NDEs aligns very well with what we’d expect to see from fantasies generated by the brains of dying individuals. In nearly all NDE reports in which visions of “gods” were seen, individuals saw gods that they were taught to worship in life. It’s not exactly common to have Hindus seeing Jesus in a NDE or Christians seeing Ra-Hoor-Khuit.

      The fact that these visions appear to be culled from a symbol-set that has been encoded in that individual’s memory suggests very, very strongly that whatever is happening — and however it’s happening — it arises in the brain of the individual.

      But again, there’s no need to go that far to determine that these supernatural claims cannot be supported and that there is no good evidence to think that any supernatural things exist, let alone that supernatural things give rise to consciousness. Until some better evidence turns up, the best conclusion is still that the natural world is the only one that exists, even if we don’t know the exact and precise mechanisms by which it works in all cases.

  7. Eric says:

    Of course the leprechaun example makes no sense, because it has no causal explanatory value. The position of a mind has fundamental causal explanation for things like experience. The position of a mind has causal explanation for why in anoxic conditions, a person can still experience consciousness.

    Using cultural differences of NDE’s as support I think rests on materialist notions of objectivity, not mental notions. Properties of the mind are things like ‘meaning’, not the physical form that something takes. The meaning behind the events in an NDE are not culturally variant. In addition, we have examples of the same events taking place in individuals that are so young as to not have cultural conditioning. I disagree entirely with your conclusion.

    There is no ‘advantage’ to the side we ‘know’ is real, because it doesn’t even have the language to begin to attempt an explanation of what is ‘supernatural’ which apparently we have no evidence for. I think the existence of intentionality IS the evidence. We have the language to explain it.

  8. Eric says:

    A couple of those last sentences of mine are a bit awkward, I’m a bit used to editing after posting. What I mean to say when I say,

    “There is no ‘advantage’ to the side we ‘know’ is real, because it doesn’t even have the language to begin to attempt an explanation of what is ‘supernatural’ which apparently we have no evidence for. I think the existence of intentionality IS the evidence. We have the language to explain it.”

    “There is no advantage to the side we know is real, because it doesn’t have the language to begin to attempt an explanation of things such as intentionality. I believe we have evidence for what you might term supernatural, and that is the existence of intentionality. I believe it is a fundamental property of mind, and we have the language to explain it.”

    Also to elaborate, when I say the meaning in NDEs are not culturally variant: Of course individual people might experience different specifics(perhaps poor results from life review or not), but the overall meaning is not.

  9. Los says:

    You write: “There is no advantage to the side we know is real, because it doesn’t have the language to begin to attempt an explanation of things such as intentionality. I believe we have evidence for what you might term supernatural, and that is the existence of intentionality.”

    In this context, intentionality isn’t the evidence — it’s the phenomenon we’re trying to determine an explanation for.

    What you say above amounts to an argument from ignorance. You’re saying, essentially, that you don’t have a natural explanation for intentionality — and that, in fact, you can’t even *imagine* what the natural explanation could be — so therefore, on the basis of that ignorance, you’re declaring the explanation to be supernatural explanation X.

    It’s similar to someone who lived before Darwin saying, “We don’t have a natural explanation for the diversity of life…in fact, naturalism doesn’t have the language to explain it, even. We don’t even know what a natural explanation would look like! Therefore, on the basis of this ignorance, we claim that supernatural explanation X is true!”

    No matter how you cut it, “I don’t know” can’t be used to support a claim.

    There’s a bigger problem, of course: as someone posulating the existence of something supernatural that is “received” by brains, you’re left with the puzzle of how and why a natural biological structure evolved to interact with something *super*natural. After all, every last thing we’ve ever discovered about evolution tells us that structures evolve in response to physical environments and have effects and functions that are entirely physical and natural. If your claim is that this one organ somehow developed to “receive” the supernatural, you’re left with the puzzle of explaining how and why this could ever be.

    By your own logic, if it’s a problem for naturalism that there’s “no language” for explaining intentionality, your side has an even bigger problem: there’s “no language” for explaining how one organ somehow, for some reason, evolved in a way that completely contradicts everything we know about evolution.

    The best position remains that brains are natural structures that arose through natural means that perform functions that are entirely natural. The mere fact that we don’t know *exactly* how every little aspect of it works in no way implies that any supernatural explanations you can cook up are any more likely to be true.

    • Eric says:

      Sorry I didn’t realize that you had replied. No, it’s not an argument from ignorance. It’s an acknowledgment of the capacity for naturalism to absorb things like ability for things to be ‘about’ other things in the context of intentionality. As far as I’m concerned, you have one out, and that’s to deny phenomenal consciousness. I think that is a silly prospect.

      How could naturalism not possibly have the language to explain the diversity of life? That is a totally silly example. You can’t frame why experiences are shared at all, by the properties of matter and energy. You can’t even begin to attempt the answer! It’s not the same as trying to unify QM with Einstein’s theorems…we have any idea about how to attempt an answer, this argument really has no corollary.

      “No matter how you cut it, ‘I don’t know’ can’t be used to support a claim.
      It’s not “I don’t know”, I know perfectly well. The fundamental properties of mind. Please explain to me what ‘charge’ is. Physicists will tell you it’s a fundamental property of matter. It is not explained in terms of anything else. *That* is how mind works. I know perfectly well.

      “By your own logic, if it’s a problem for naturalism that there’s ‘no language’ for explaining intentionality, your side has an even bigger problem: there’s ‘no language’ for explaining how one organ somehow, for some reason, evolved in a way that completely contradicts everything we know about evolution”. No, I don’t know where you’re coming up with these ideas. Where did I ever make an argument that all of science was incorrect? How silly of you to suggest that I need an answer to that counter to evolution itself. I believe in evolution.

      No, your conclusion is invalid.

  10. Eric says:

    Is there a way to contact people to let them know to reply? Is anyone still around, I wasn’t done debating, this is fun…

  11. mindcore says:

    Hopefully folks have it set up that they are getting updates on the responses. IAO or Los may just be thinking of an answer.

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