|Image Credit: http://www.iconfoundation.net/?q=research-topics/connectomics|
I was on a bit of a roll, about consciousness, and internal, vs. external worlds. It still seems to me that our internal worlds are bigger, and arguably more influential (?!) than the external, physical world. My friend Monica, when we were having a conversation about this, made the point that the number of atoms in the physical universe is thought to be finite - yet the world of ideas and imagination is infinite.
In a previous discussion, it was pointed out that some of the things we think of as "transcending" biology, such as art, literature, religion, can be explained in biological terms as "display behaviour". I'm sure there is very often a strong element of this - but I find it hard to believe it's really that simple. And to be honest, I think that when any of these things are strongly motivated by something so basic, it shows. The things that really make "our spirits soar" tend to be those that take us beyond all that in some way.
So, for me, the idea that the immeasurable and intangible worlds of culture, ideals, imagination, intellectual connection, and the spiritual (however you define that) embody something much bigger and more influential than physics and biology (although it negates neither) is something I just can't shake.
But this also begs the question - what is "spiritual"? Is it the uniquely wonderful, yet very human capacity to create a world of imagination and ideals that is every bit as strong as - perhaps stronger than - the physical universe, and to bend reality, in some senses, according to this internal construct? Is it a product, a kind of "epiphenomena" arising out of our complex neural networks, which is biologically based, yet in some sense manages to transcend its own biological basis?
Or is it really a connection between a part of us that is eternal, pre-existent, and outside of the physical, with a consciousness outside of and greater than our own biology?
Truthfully - there are things I have seen and experienced that make me lean towards the latter. I believe there is a God. However if my "neural net" and the epiphenomena that arise from this, are all I truly have - I still think that is enough. If the ideals of "love", "tolerance", and working together with others for a more positive future are neural "epiphenomena" - it makes them no less worth living for.