The Human Brain: Home of the Soul
Chapter Twelve (Part Two)
Shortly after writing the previous chapter, I came across a 1995 TIME magazine yearbook offering an article entitled, “Glimpses of the Mind.” The editorial staff at TIME reported: “The mystery is deep, a set of interrelated conundrums perhaps as old as humanity: What, precisely, is the mind, the elusive entity where intelligence, decision making, perception, awareness and a sense of self reside? Where is it located? How does it work? Does it arise from purely physical processes — pulses of electricity zapping from brain cell to brain cell, helped along their way by myriad complex chemicals? Or is it something beyond the merely physical — something ethereal that might be close to the spiritual concept of the soul?” Those questions were similar to my own — questions that led me into this study on the human brain in the first place.
That same day, I received Chuck Missler’s February 1999 newsletter that included a similar article on the brain. His research compares remarkably with what we have learned. He wrote that the brain has been estimated to be “… composed of 1010 nerve cells, each with 104 – 105 connecting fibers, thus approaching 1015 separate connections.” To help us comprehend these astronomical numbers, he said, “Try to imagine a 1015 equivalent: imagine a forest half the size of the United States — about 1 million square miles. Assume there were 10,000 trees per square mile, each with 100,000 leaves on each tree. That’s a bunch.” His premise is that the brain is a “… highly organized network of uniquely adaptive communication channels. If only 1% of the connections were specifically organized pathways, it would still represent a greater number of connections than the entire communications network on the Planet Earth.”
Missler told about Wilder Penfield, a Canadian neurosurgeon, who published The Mystery of the Mind (1920s), in which he speculated that all memory is recorded in the brain and stored in specific locations. On the other hand, Karl Pribram, a neurophysiologist at Stanford University, in his book, Languages of the Brain, found that removing parts of the brain did not eradicate memories. He set forth the theory that memories were not localized at specific brain sites, but were somehow distributed throughout the brain as a whole. Missler writes, “When Pribram discovered holography, he was ecstatic. If it was possible for every portion of a piece of holographic film to contain all the information necessary to create a whole image, then it seemed equally possible for every part of the brain to contain all of the information necessary to recall a whole memory.”
He continues, “The holographic paradigm also explains how the brain can store so many memories in so little space. The physicist John von Neumann, once calculated that over the course of the average lifetime, the brain stores something on the order of 2.8 x 1020 bits of information … that’s 1,000 bits for every second in the entire history of the universe!”
It is said that if a hologram were cut into a thousand pieces, each piece would contain a complete picture. This accounts for the theory expressed above that the brain stores every memory in a holographic process. Pretty impressive possibilities! Missler concludes, “the notion of the mind is broader than simply the organ we call the brain. There are aspects to imagination, inspiration and creativity that go far beyond the mechanisms for storage, recall, and processing. Is there a ‘holy of holies’ in our own being that doesn’t lend itself to x-rays, ultrasound or electron microscopes? Is there a hyper-dimensional transformer or transfer function that connects us to another dimension beyond those of our consciousness?”
This is precisely the theory we have thus far explored. It appears that the brain may be connected to a mysterious source beyond this dimension. It may be that memory is stored in that other world, and that the brain processes, transfers and retrieves that memory continually. For lack of a better example, we have compared the brain to a sophisticated computer, endowed with a certain amount of random access memory (RAM), but that memory may also be stored in an off-premise storage unit (in heaven) — similar to a main-frame computer accessed by someone through a wireless modem.
I envision such a process in which, when we confess our sins, God erases the stored memory of the event in question. We are told that God will blot out our transgressions: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isaiah 43:25). However, we cannot seem to forget our sin that easily. Evil seems to affect the brain in a far more permanent way than pleasant memories. The TIME article states:
“Physical trauma can distort memory, presumably by destroying all or part of one of the memory-processing structures. But other sorts of shock — strong emotion, for example — can do the same. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a good example of the brain reacting to shock. ‘It’s been an eye opener to me that individuals we study who were traumatized 25 years ago still show abnormal brain function,’ says Dennis Charney, head of psychiatry at a VA hospital in Connecticut. ‘Severe stress can change the way your brain functions biologically.’”
The brain can actually be permanently damaged by the evils in which men engage. Perhaps that is why the forbidden fruit was referred to as the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil.” The very knowledge of evil can have a potentially deadly effect on the processes used to assimilate knowledge in the brain. TIME continues:
“Until a few years ago, unraveling the relationship of mind and brain was beyond the realm of observation and experimentation. But science has finally begun to catch up with philosophy. Using sensitive electrodes inserted deep into the gray matter of test animals, researchers have watched vision as it percolates inward from the eye’s retina to the inner brain. Powerful technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Positron-Emission Tomography (PET) have also provided a window to the human brain, enabling scientists to watch a thought taking place, see the red glow of fear erupting from the structure known as the amygdala, or note the telltale firing of neurons as a long-buried memory is reconstructed. ‘What’s so exciting,’ says Patricia Churchland, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, ‘is that the philosophical questions raised by the Greeks are coming within the province of science.’
“In response to this enormous opportunity — not just to clarify the mysteries of consciousness but also to understand and treat such devastating mind malfunctions as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, drug addiction, schizophrenia and traumatic brain damage — research projects have multiplied dramatically.”
Consulting the Rabbis
Scientific studies are trying to determine whether we are purely a chemical entity or if some ethereal spirit dwells within the brain. And that brings me to a third resource — the Zohar, an ancient Jewish commentary. One of our readers had called with a question about a quote I had referred to on our television program, so I picked up one of the volumes of the Zohar, a Jewish commentary on the Torah in order to look for my resource. As I leafed through the pages, my eyes fell upon the word nephesh. Knowing that nephesh was the Hebrew word for “soul,” my interest was stirred.
Think of it. Within a month, I had “accidentally” come across more resource material on the human brain — home of the soul! Was all of this mere coincidence? Or was someone communicating with me from beyond this dimension — the very premise I had entertained in my previous articles on this subject?
In this ancient writing, Jewish scholars claimed that the soul contains a trinity of entities that form a unity:
“Three names has the soul of man: nephesh, ruah and neshamah. They are all comprised one within the other, yet upon death they have three distinct abodes:
“Nephesh [translated ‘soul’ in the KJV] remains in the grave until the body is decomposed and turned into dust, during which time it flits about in this world, seeking to mingle with the living and to learn of their troubles; and in the hour of need it intercedes for them.
“Ruah [translated ‘spirit’ in the KJV] enters paradise and there dons a likeness which is in the semblance of the body: that likeness being, as it were, a garment with which the spirit robes itself, so that it may enjoy the delights of paradise.
“Neshamah [translated ‘breath’ in the KJV] ascends at once to her place, the region from whence she [note the feminine nature of this entity] emanated, and for her sake the light is kindled to shine above. She never again descends to earth. In her is consummated the One Who combines all sides, the upper and the lower. And as long as she has not ascended to be united with the Throne, the ruah [spirit] cannot crown itself in paradise, nor can the nephesh [soul] be at ease in its place; but when she ascends all the others find rest.”
I was aware of what the Bible teaches about the soul and spirit, as taught through the Hebrew terms nephesh [soul] and ruah [spirit], but I was not familiar with the term neshamah. However, upon further research, I learned that it is the Hebrew term used in the scripture where God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the “breath of life.” Neshamah is the term translated “breath” in Genesis 2:7:
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).
The Hebrew for “breath of life” is neshamah ,nab (breath) and chai ohj (life). Now let’s see if we can get this straight. According to early Jewish scholars, what we call the soul is actually made up of three entities. The nephesh appears to be our human life-consciousness — similar to the life-consciousness of an animal. According to the Bible, animals also have a nephesh. But, as far as we can determine, an animal does not have a God-consciousness. That is where the neshamah comes in. That is the part that was breathed into us by God, Himself. The ruah (pronounced ruach) is the spirit that connects our neshamah to our nephesh. At least that is the theory espoused by the rabbis. They put it this way:
“The nephesh possesses in itself no light and cannot out of its own being engender it, and for this reason it is in close connection and deeply enmeshed with its body. The ruah rides upon the nephesh, dominates it, and enlightens it with supernal glory, as much as it can bear; this nephesh is the throne of its ruah. The neshamah produces the ruah, rules over it, and sheds upon it the light of life. The ruah depends entirely upon the neshamah and is lit up by its light and nourished by its celestial food, while the nephesh is similarly dependent on the ruah.”
Note the use of the term “light of life” possessed by the neshamah. It is the same terminology used of our Savior in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel:
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
“The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
“He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:4-9).
Jesus possessed the light of the neshamah. How curious! Using this analogy, let us see if we can figure out just what happened to Adam when he sinned. God had told him that if he sinned, he would die. But we know that Adam did not die physically on the day he partook of the forbidden fruit. Christian theologians have long believed that it was the spirit of Adam that lost its fellowship with God and needed to be regenerated. That makes sense. It seems that the ruah was somehow impaired, severing the connection between the nephesh and the neshamah — between Adam’s life-consciousness and his God-consciousness. Thus, the fellowship was broken. God would no longer come down to walk in the Garden and visit with Adam in the cool of the day. Adam was driven from the Garden. Paradise was lost.
We have only to observe a natural unsaved man to understand this concept. The unsaved man has no comprehension of God’s marvelous work on his behalf. As far as most men are concerned, there is no God. Oh, he may give an intellectual explanation for the existence of some “man upstairs,” but he has no experience to back up his statement. A man must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit in order to absolutely know in his soul that there is a God caring for and watching over him. This could be what the Bible calls being “born again.” Something has to be “reborn” inside of us. That entity “reborn” is what the rabbis call the ruah.
A side note: the rabbis — those who do not believe in the triune Godhead (trinity) — do believe in the trinity of the human soul as three in one! This ancient commentary does not take into account the fact that Christ died and rose again. Their belief concerning the soul is stuck back in the days of the Old Testament, before salvation became available. In describing the nephesh [soul] of the dead, the rabbis said that it stayed with the body until it had decayed and the bones were parted. This may be the reason why Jews, in Bible days, buried their dead in caves rather than underground. Recent excavations of tombs in Jerusalem found that the bones of the departed were separated and stored in small coffins. Perhaps these bones were removed from the funerary slab and separated in an effort to free the soul for its journey to reunite with its ruah and neshamah.
According to the rabbis, the soul of the dead can be contacted:
“Now when the children of men are in sorrow or trouble, and repair to the graves of the departed, then the nephesh is awakened and it wanders forth and rouses the ruah, which in turn rouses the Patriarchs, and then the neshamah. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, takes pity on the world. This matter has already been explained, although the doctrine of the neshamah has been put in a somewhat different form; but it all amounts to the same, and what we have said is entirely correct.”
Perhaps this is why Jews congregate at the tomb of Abraham to pray. Somehow, they think Abraham might intercede.
The following commentary may explain why various ancient cultures believed in ghosts — departed spirits that appear to be locked into this plane of existence:
“Now if the neshamah is hindered from ascending to her rightful place, then the ruah, when it reaches the door of paradise, finds it barred, and it cannot enter and so roams about unnoticed and forlorn; and as for the nephesh, it wanders about the world and beholds the body which was once its home devoured by worms and suffering the judgment of the grave, and it mourns. Thus all suffer punishment, and so they remain until the neshamah is able to attain to her rightful sphere; for all three are one, forming one whole, united in a mystical bond, according to the prototype above, in which nephesh, ruah and neshamah constitute together one totality.”
It is obvious from this ancient Jewish teaching, that Judaism does not accept the fact that Adam sinned and caused the fall of the human race. They do not believe that men are born with fallen natures. Jews teach that every man is born with a clean slate. Since man is not a sinner, he does not need to be saved. In this theory, Jews leave no room for regeneration. They fail to understand that God told Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
It is our conviction that the spirit of Adam could only be regenerated by the Holy Spirit after the death and resurrection of Christ. This revival or regeneration occurs at the moment of conversion. This is why we are encouraged to become soul winners. This is why we are commanded to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. We believe that at the moment the sinner repents of sin, prays for forgiveness and trusts in Jesus Christ, his spirit is regenerated. The Holy Spirit endows that human spirit with eternal life.
Christianity believes that man is a trinity consisting of body, soul and spirit. The rabbis, on the other hand, do not take into account the body. They see a trinity in the soul alone — consisting of soul, spirit and the neshamah:
Similarly in man below, the three are one — yet separate. The neshamah ascends aloft to the fountain-head; the ruah enters paradise: and the nephesh finds rest in the grave. Thus there are three grades of the soul distinct one from another, although they form one bond and one mystery.
I am bothered by their assertion that the soul stays with the body in the grave until the flesh has turned to dust and the bones are separated. Most conservative Christian theologians teach that the soul of the saint ascends into heaven and that the soul of the sinner descends into hell.
In the final analysis, the rabbis believe the three entities of the soul finally get back together: “When that ruah ascends to be crowned within its neshamah which is above, the nephesh joins the ruah and receives illumination from it, which causes itself to shine, even as the moon borrows light from the sun. And that ruah then joins itself to the neshamah, and the neshamah unites herself with the Infinite.
“Thus is achieved harmony, peace and union. This constitutes the attainment of the rest and quietude of the nephesh, concerning which it is written: ‘But the soul (nephesh) of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with (aleph-tahv) the Lord thy God’ (I Samuel 25:29); that is to say, in the union symbolized by the aleph-tahv (signifying the union of all things). Blessed are the righteous who fear their Lord in this world, for they merit the threefold rest of saints in the world to come.”
Here is an interesting statement — the rabbis believe the reunited soul is “bound in the bundle of life with the aleph-tahv.” Though they do not recognize Jesus Christ as Messiah, Jesus, Himself, claimed to be the Aleph-Tahv, the Hebrew equivalent of the Alpha and Omega. They are actually saying that the soul that makes it to heaven enjoys fellowship with the Messiah.
This excursion into the realm of Jewish thinking about the soul still leaves us with the mystery of the human brain and its connection with consciousness — the sense of being in the here and now. The TIME article drew this conclusion:
“Does this mean that science is on the verge of understanding consciousness? Not necessarily. The notion that the human mind can ever fully comprehend the human mind could well be folly. It may be that scientists will eventually have to acknowledge the existence of something beyond their ken — something that might be described as the soul.”
Ghosts and Spirits
Reports abound throughout the centuries about people seeing strange, dimly-lit wisps of vapor-like images of people who have died. Are these “ghosts” merely figments of imagination? Or are they actually glimpses across the dimensional plane where the spirits of those people continue their existence? The Bible tells us about Jesus casting demons out of people. Is it possible that other intelligent entities can actually enter into a person and cause them mental or emotional problems? If so, and I have no doubt as to its reality, then those demonic spirits must exist in another dimension rather than coming from another galaxy or distant star system.
Out of the Body Experiences
Nature magazine, September 19, 2002, reported that neuroscientist Olaf Blanke, at the Geneva University Hospital, in Switzerland, was able to bring about an out-of-body experience through electrical stimulation of the right angular gyrus in the temporal lobe of a 43 year-old woman suffering from severe epileptic seizures.
With the first mild stimulation, she felt she was “sinking into the bed” or “falling from a height.” With more intense stimulation, she said she could “see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk.” Another trial induced “an instantaneous feeling of lightness and floating about six feet above the bed, close to the ceiling.”
For centuries, man’s mysterious brain has been capable of encountering other worldly experiences through prayer, meditation, or the influence of drugs. Mystics have told of having a “third eye” capable of clairvoyant perception, seeing ghosts and reading minds. But now, science has discovered a breakthrough in the production of such experiences. According to the first-century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, this forbidden territory awaits the death of every person. The righteous travel through a tunnel of light to the gate of the nether world, where angels escort them to Paradise. But the wicked arrive at the gate, only to be dragged away by demons into torment.
There are many stories about people who have dropped into a dream-state, left their bodies and traveled to other places. Do you believe this is possible? If you deny its possibility, then I would like for you to consider a man named Paul, who tells of such an experience as he lay dying outside the city walls of Lystra:
“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
“And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
“How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (II Cor. 12:1-4).
After being stoned and taken up for dead, he revived and lived to tell about this incredible adventure. Yes, there is another world nearby, into which we can step when our physical brains begin to shut down and our bodies begin to die.
Near Death Experiences
There are hundreds of recorded testimonies from people who have died, and later been resuscitated. Many tell of leaving their bodies, seeing the team of doctors and nurses working over them, traveling through a tunnel, and seeing a bright light at the other end of it. There are too many independent accounts of the same tunnel and same light for it to be a mere figment of the imagination. Nor could it simply be a chemical reaction in the brain. Those who have been there claim to have seen and talked with others who are there — Jesus, their relatives, etc. Their conversations are too similar, too dynamic, and too knowledgeable to be the result of simple chemical changes in the physical conditions of their brains.
Josephus’ Description of
Death and After
Perhaps the best extra-biblical account of the other world that exists just beyond our mental comprehension was given by the first-century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus. It is quite similar to the descriptions of the tunnel or heavenly hallway awaiting our souls:
“There is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls; they do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments, which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the fathers and of the just, which they see always smiles upon them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call the Bosom of Abraham.
“But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good-will, but as prisoners driven by violence; to whom are sent the angels appointed over them to reproach them and threaten them with their terrible looks, and to thrust them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls, drag them into the neighborhood of hell itself; who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapor itself; but when they have a nearer view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and exceeding great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expectation of a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby; and not only so, but where they see the place of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it.
“This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined, when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe; but learn not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato, and this in time, be not incredulous; but believe that God is able, when he hath raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God, that he is able to do some things, and unable to do others. We have therefore believed that the body will be raised again; for although it be dissolved, it is not perished; for the earth receives its remains, and preserves them; and while they are like seed and are mixed among the more fruitful soil, they flourish and what is sown is indeed sown bare grain; but at the mighty sound of God the Creator, it will sprout up, and be raised in a clothed and glorious condition, though not before it has been dissolved, and mixed with the earth, So that we have not rashly believed the resurrection of the body; for although it be dissolved for a time on account of the original transgression, it exists still, and is cast into the earth as into a potters furnace, in order to be formed again, not in order to rise again such as it was before, but in a state of purity, and so as never to be destroyed any more; and to everybody shall its own soul be restored; and when it hath clothed itself with that body, it will not be subject to misery, but being itself pure, it will continue with its pure body, and rejoice with it, with which it having walked righteously now in this world, and never having had it as a snare, it will receive it again with great gladness; but as for the unjust, they will receive their bodies not changed, but with the same diseases wherein they died, and such as they were in their unbelief, the same shall they be when they shall be faithfully judged.
“For all men, the just as well as the unjust, shall be brought before God the Word; for to him hath the Father committed all judgment; and he in order to fulfill the will of his Father shall come as judge, whom we call Christ….
“… the just shall remember only their righteous actions whereby they have attained the heavenly kingdom, in which there is no sleep, no sorrow, no corruption, no care, no night, no day measured by time, no sun driven in his course along the circle of heaven by necessity; and measuring out the hounds and conversions of the seasons, for the better illumination of the life of men; no moon decreasing and increasing, or introducing a variety of seasons, nor will she then moisten the earth; no burning sun, no Bear turning round [the pole], no Orion to rise, no wandering of innumerable stars. The earth will not then be difficult to be passed over, nor will it be hard to find out the court of Paradise, nor will there be any fearful roaring of the sea, forbidding the passengers to walk on it; even that will be made easily passable to the just, though it will not be void of moisture. Heaven will not then be uninhabitable by men; and it will not be impossible to discover the way of ascending thither. The earth will not be uncultivated, nor require too much labor of men, but will bring forth its fruits of its own accord, and will be well adorned with them.”
There are two things of particular interest predicted by Josephus. First, he said, “nor will it be hard to find out the court of Paradise….” In other words, we shall someday possess the technology of trans-dimensional travel. We will be able to slide to and from this plane of existence into paradise, the dimension in which angelic creatures live, and return.
Secondly, Josephus said, “Heaven will not then be uninhabitable by men; and it will not be impossible to discover the way of ascending thither.” We have already begun to see man’s first attempts beyond the gravitational pull of planet Earth. We have sent men to the moon and robots to Mars. We are presently exploring the planets. But, when the souls who have died, have been resurrected with immortal bodies, and the church has been translated, we will all return with Christ possessing the knowledge and technology to travel across the universe! In our modern age, with new discoveries being made almost every day, perhaps it’s time we attempted to understand the concepts of those ancient mysteries, which lie just beyond our present comprehension.