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When magic becomes an acceptable concept in science

By Brian Holden - posted Wednesday, 8 February 2012

It began with a thinning of the forest due to climate change. In the forest were swinging animals with hands. Now in the open grasslands there were a greater variety of activities which could be done by those hands and in this brain/hand complex, one component fed-back on the other. The thumb of ape-man also changed position, which allowed the hand to close more effectively and become a better maker and handler of tools. The next fortuitous development was truly astonishing.

The larynx of the hominids changed shape: the feedback this time between brain and larynx as when we have the intention to speak, there are already minute movements in the larynx. This reshaping allowed for the great range of subtle sounds, without which language would not be possible. With language, human brain power jumped to another level so profoundly unfamiliar that most biologists backed-off from any further theorising. From what we know of Charles Darwin, he was a biologist who would never back off.

When Darwin was developing the theory that would make him a household name, another Englishman, Alfred Wallace, was performing similar work and coming to the same conclusions. Wallace remains unknown because he pulled his punches. The stumbling block was the human mind. Wallace said that humans were so far advanced on other life forms that they must have been a special creation.  He was implying supernatural intervention. Darwin took the position that the apparently ‘miraculous’ human mind is not a special creation, but the result of a fortuitous coming together of circumstances.


In 1859, Darwin had a very restricted capacity to envisage future scientific revelation. If he was to reject the supernatural and stick tenaciously and courageously to the natural, then if he lived for another century, he would have had to reach for the word “magic”.

Why magic?

If a rabbit is pulled out of a hat, none in the amazed audience concludes that there is anything supernatural occurring. All know that an event has occurred within nature - it is just that they do not understand how it could have occurred. I find the label “magic” to be the most appropriate available for what a 200 year-old Darwin would witness as revealed in the science of the mind as it is forced by the evidence to step into another dimension.

We begin with the question: Is it possible to think without the inner conversation? Try doing this and you immediately realise the importance of recognition. With a blank mind you still know that the window in front of you is a window because you have seen windows before. That leads you to deduce that memory is a filing system - with one memory being stored in one pattern of brain cells.

Likewise, every word I know has its own supporting pattern of cells in my brain. I observe that I do not construct a sentence before saying it. All I have is an intention to express an understanding I have. As each word comes out of my mouth, my brain is searching for the next one. The gap between words is a fraction of a second in duration. It follows that the ‘searchlight’ looking over the files containing my entire vocabulary must operate at phenomenal speed.  

My brain can perform some other amazing tricks. When I have a picture of my dead mother in my brain, where is the screen and where is the projector? There are none. Like a rabbit pulled out of a hat, the image just happens within mind space following an intention to have the image. Then there is the self-awareness that makes humans so special. I know that I am me, while my cat does not know who she is. We know that the memory of what we did enables self-referral, but where does the awareness that I am me reside in my brain? Nobody knows because it is nowhere in particular. It is just there. Even nerve connections in my spinal cord might be contributing to that awareness. Another rabbit out of the hat.


Of course, there must be the intention there in the first place to say a particular word. Otherwise any one of my store of thousands of words could be blurted out. Science has a big problem here because there cannot be a pattern of brain cells supporting a specific intention - leaving the question of what pattern activated that pattern. That regression could go backwards forever.

The electrochemical activity in a pattern of brain cells when activated has been well described in physical terms involving energy exchanges. But there is no energy in an intention. It seems to be outside of physics. How can that be? From this weirdness, does it follow that it is occupying another dimension outside of the 3D one we are familiar with - and yet still trapped within a physical skull - that is very much in our 3D world? That would have to mean that it occupies a dimension enfolded within the 3D world. The concept of enfolded dimensions is not new to theoretical physics.

However, we don’t know, and there is a very good chance that we will never know. Knowing where the specific tissue is that an anaesthetic shuts the mind down tells us nothing about the essence of ‘mind-stuff’. Nevertheless, even if outside of physics, the mind is part of the evolution story as it gave man a very significant survival advantage - and comparative survival advantages underpins Darwin’s whole theory.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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