No, it’s not a Facebook update about a relationship that’s heading south.
The meeting, titled “Successes and Next Challenges,” focused on an area of research in which obstacles are more numerous and progress is more frustratingly incremental than most realize. The professor who founded and directs the billion-euro “Human Brain Project” made it clear how much progress still needs to be made.
“We understand the brain better,” he affirmed, but asked: “Is it really making a difference?” Often the answer is no, and even when treatments seem to work – such as drugs for Parkinson’s disease – “we don’t know why.”
In the meantime, the heart-rending social cost grows as much-needed solutions for the many “brain-related disorders” remain tantalizingly out of reach. The fiscal burden is also staggering – almost €800 billion ($1.04 trillion) annually in Europe. In addition, 100,000 neuroscience papers were published in 2012 – costing €5.6 billion ($7.3 billion) – despite the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has phased out most of its brain-related research and development departments.
“We’re not translating this knowledge into drugs,” said Professor Markram.
Despite the lack of new meds, progress is being made. People with autism are no longer regarded as mentally retarded but “especially gifted.” There’s more empathy for patients with depression. Also welcome are technological advances, including brain-computer interfaces “connecting the disabled to their physical and social world.”
But much more is needed – for the sake of body as well as mind. Mary Baker, president of the European Brain Council, gave the example of the impact a mental state such as depression has on the physical well-being of those diagnosed with diabetes. She also advised the younger people in the audience, “Good health is just an incomplete diagnosis!”
I chuckled at that along with everyone else, but thought to myself that she would have received a louder laugh if she’d suggested instead that good health is the complete diagnosis of all of us, whatever our age.
That, in a nutshell, is the spiritual foundation of a systematic approach to healing tested and articulated by the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy (no relation to the speaker). Her ideas are not a call to ignore mental and bodily illness but offer an alternative approach to address them. As Mrs. Eddy explains it: “Consciousness constructs a better body when faith in matter has been conquered” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 425).
This suggests an interesting question. Are our “brain-related” problems truly a result of what the brain does to us? Or could they be a consequence of believing in the centrality of the brain, rather than consciousness, as the source of our thinking?
In three decades of using the spiritual practice of Christian Science, rather than medication, I’ve found that looking beyond the brain as the center and circumference of thought tends to dissipate fears that impede better health – fears arising from believing our well-being is at the mercy of circumstances beyond our control.
For me, this focus comes by meditating on the nature of what the Bible calls the mind that was in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 2:5) and embracing the better life-motives that flow from divine thinking. I’ve found getting “to know God’s thoughts,” as Einstein once put it, tends to reduce – even extinguish – anxiety and stress and can steer the body as well as the mind back to health. This doesn’t always happen as quickly as we might wish. But a spiritual approach to health holds out the hope of real healing, a hope that can otherwise seem in short supply.
The heartfelt efforts of brilliant scientists will, of course, drive forward the attempt to figure out the brain. Europe’s Human Brain Project is a decade-long commitment “to simulate a complete human brain in a supercomputer.” And President Obama recently announced the first $100 million of what he hopes will become a $3 billion BRAIN Initiative (often referred to as the Brain Activity Map).
While these long-term, high-budget projects gather steam, millions of experiments into the power of consciousness are simultaneously being conducted by individuals around the world, seeking health now in the laboratory of their own lives. Many people, pushing up against the limits of a material status quo, are exploring the therapeutic value of mind-body medicine, including the medicine of divine Mind.
Their findings might vary. Not all mind-body medicine delivers.
But for many, the healing results they can report point to the powerful effect of viewing mind as consciousness – especially when its substance is recognized as Spirit, the divine Mind, rather than matter.