Neuroscience, Human Nature, and Redemption

Speaker: Categories: Apr 09, 2005


[1hr, 18min, 24sec / 1hr, 3min, 36sec]


Juxtaposing words together, which are more commonly seen separately, can be very attention-getting. Such was the case when our April speaker, who is a new presenter at our SDAF though a current member and tape subscriber, emailed his suggested title for this month's presentation. The thought immediately surfaced: how mightneuroscience, human nature, andredemptionpossibly be associated with each other. Furthermore, what kind of researcher would choose to make such close-association linkage?

Let's consider the following information which T. Joe Wiley has provided for this introduction:

"'I confess to you here, honestly and frankly, that I know nothing about it. With these words Nicolaus Steno (credited with the brilliant deduction for the geological law of superposition) began his lecture to inquiring minds on the anatomy of the brain in 1662.

One could begin a presentation today on how the brain works with just such forthrightness - particularly if trying to explain how the brain is wired at birth with the proliferation of synapses (connections) in just the right order to end up with an infant that can walk, talk and create mischief all on its own without being taught."

"In recent decades,"Dr. Willey continues,"the understanding of the brain has grown enormously. Still we have not been able to put aside, from what we know, that the brain is the most complex and well ordered"thing"in our universe. Besides a certain reverence for what nerds can do intellectually with computers, it is just as impressive to contemplate how the simplest emotions flow through the neurons of common man and woman to construct feelings such as joy and sorrow and emotions in between. Moving on to more complex activities, we perform walking, running, sleeping and talking through brain functions. We figure out taxes and otherdeviousthings. Art, music, literature, wit, language and philosophy are all expressed through this magnificent three and half pound ball of fat above our shoulders. But of course that's not all. What about the meaning of life, the supernatural, or the grand scale of the universe itself? None of this can be understood by sitting by the side of the road. There is no doubt about it! How we grasp matter such as atoms, molecules, and quarks; how we learn; how we explore mountains and caves, navigate the oceans, construct bridges or sit quietly in love without words is all there in the brain. Even a beautiful sunset never happens unless the brain has its way."

(Please keep in mindthat your brain has been diligently at work just reading these first few paragraphs of this announcement!)

"There is considerable evidence,"notes T. Joe Willey,"that genetics has some sort of parallel intelligence in organizing the cerebral cortex, controlling human nature and other psychological traits. Still the estimated seven-hundred fifty megabyte human genome cannot possibly effect the hundred trillion or more connections in the brain. People born without a limb can experience a phantom limb in the same manner as a person losing a limb as an adult. One girl born without a hand was found to solve mathematical problems by counting on her phantom fingers! There are many interesting starting points in comprehending human nature  and the staggering complexities driven by actions from the brain. Some people say you are what you eat. After this presentation you will come away recognizing that the genome shaped through an unimaginable intricate brain is what you are and how you fit into the world around you. And mostly the brain runs on oxygen and glucose, not strawberry jam or cottage cheese."

"At night when people dream their body stays in the bed but some part of them is up and about in the world. Is this the origin of the body and soul concept found in religion? The last section of the presentation will be more speculative in searching for the"God"or religious part of the brain. Some of the latest discoveries, or lack thereof, will be presented on the scientific Interpretation of human spirituality and God. Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) recognized that there is"a certain propensity in human nature .... to truck, barter, and exchange one thing fur another."Is this what some Christians are doing when laying their souls before God in exchange for the favor of an afterlife? An estimated ninety-six percent of Americans believe in a God or universal spirit. How do you account for this when the humdrum world where most people daily live involves other people, animals, plants and objects appearing under predictable observations-the biological and physical laws in which we've learned to have confidence?"


T. Joe Willey holds a master's in biology from Walla Walla College and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, Berkeley. From 1969 to 1985 he was a professor in the department of physiology, Loma Linda School of Medicine. His research on the brain was published in scientific journals varying from electron microscopy, single cell recordings, computer simulations, and mass actions in large groups of neurons. During this time he spent a fellowship year by invitation with Sir John Eccles, Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, at the University of New York in Buffalo.

In 1985 T Joe took a leave of absence from LLU to form Staffing Services, Inc., a professional employer organization. Since that time he has been very successful in numerous business ventures.

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