Prayer, meditation, and the nature of being conscious.

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Recently I’ve been involved in several threads (and debates) based on such ideas and decided to write a short note to help keep my thoughts on the topic(s) in memorandum.
In defense of the above meme (yes, I thrive on being offered the chance to play the devil’s advocate!), I have claimed that no one, not even Sigmund Freud, has a complete understanding of the human psyche.

Prayer, as described in the meme, may set certain sub-conscious mechanisms to work through sheer intention and a willingness, at least for a moment, to take a deep breath and simply “surrender”. Yes, it can be thought of as a form of meditation with similar benefits. But sometimes, the very act of coming to peace with the idea that you do not have all the answers and would *appreciate some guidance*, pushing the ego out of the way for a moment, can produce a state of mind better equipped to realize opportunity, to reconsider preconceptions (and anxiety), and to develop a different perspective on circumstances. Whether or not there is actually a God to hear you is irrelevant and besides the point.

Do consider: An appeal to something greater than oneself (imaginary or not) can remove self-imposed inhibitions, freeing up the reserves of will and fortitude that most would not have normal access to.

As biological creatures we actually have autonomous limitations designed to preserve the integrity of our bodily functions. Long distance runners, deep water free divers, and other athletes can hone a skill set to overcome these. A sense of “prayer” may enable access to the same sort of reserves for many, especially in time of great need. Human literature has as one of it’s historic key stones the accumulation of many stories of those pitted against all the odds and yet prevailing, and they often include incredible perseverance and even feats of unusual ability.

As thinking creatures we have mental inhibitors as well, often contributing a sort of color to our egos. Self-doubt, low self-esteem and confidence, negativity perceived as coming from others, fear of the unknown and untried, and even instinctual ones, again designed to preserve your life and limb.

Can prayer be useful in overcoming these useless weights in time of need? I think there is a mountain of historical evidence to support that it might.


It is my belief that the common paradigm of “OK, there is the brain, from that comes consciousness.” is science reduced to the level of gross over simplification.

Research in brain science has developed what is now commonly referred to as the “Global Workspace” (or “GW”) theory of consciousness [1] which follows evidence that much of the activity of the brain goes on behind the scenes of subjectivity; lending itself well to the metaphor of self-aware, subjective “consciousness” being like the actor under a spot light, on stage, while the vast majority of the theater staff of rope pullers, prop setters, musicians and so on are out of site in the darkness.

fMRI studies have found that several parts of the brain exchange information as long as several seconds BEFORE a studied volunteer consciously decides to press a button with either their left OR their right hand [2]. You think “you” just decided to choose one hand or the other but in most cases, the rest of your brain was far ahead of you in that choice.

Modern explorations in how anesthesia actually *works* in regards to consciousness, a field that still holds many mysteries, is full of interesting revelations as well [3]. In general, most modern anesthesia seems to produce a form of reversible coma-like state in the brain but some parts of the brain actually become more excited during treatment rather than less. Ketamine, a drug frequently used to start and maintain anesthesia, can actually induce unconsciousness from OVER stimulating parts of the brain, even to the point of inducing hallucinations; one reason why it has a value on the recreational drug black market.

University of Arizona’s Stuart Hameroff (and many others), an anesthesiologist and professor there known for his studies of consciousness, has suggested that the brain is like many voices all shouting to be heard, each with their own agenda, and that subjective consciousness emerges or “bubbles up” from that cacophony. Anesthesia is like all of those voices suddenly being made quiet, like an office space where everyone spontaneously begins to meditate. George Mashour, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan Medical School, has said “sensory networks in the brains of unconscious people remain locally functional, but intrabrain communication has broken down. The neighborhood’s lights are on, in other words, but the Internet and phone lines have all been cut.”[4]

Schizophrenic patients are typically unable to filter sensory stimuli and may have enhanced perceptions of sounds, colors, and other features of their environment… is one or more voices simply screaming over the top of all the others?

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