You Are Not Your Brain
A neuroscientist discovers that we are more than just neurons.
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Marjorie Woollacott is a neuroscientist who came to the conclusion that our consciousness is not solely generated by our neurons. Through her meditative practice, she has also discovered a powerful "energy" that lies just below the surface of our day-to-day awareness and is a source of profound joy and tranquility.
Adam Jacobs: Hello, Marjorie, and thank you for coming to join me on Beyond Belief Today. How are things in Sedona today?
Marjorie Woollacott: They're bright and sunny, and it's a beautiful, wonderful day full of spring flowers.
Adam Jacobs: It looks like it, and it's a perfect day it seems to talk about big ideas of which I have been privileged to learn some of yours recently. I've been doing a survey of some of your work and your videos, and I have a whole host of questions for you.
And I think maybe just to start things off, you are, it seems to me, a bit of what I would describe as a unicorn in the scientific world. You're a neuroscientist who nonetheless believes that neurons are not the be-all and end-all of consciousness and human existence. And you arrived there through what I would describe as kind of a mystical experience. And I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing with the audience what exactly happened.
Marjorie Woollacott: Sure, I'd be very happy to. So my sister, who had been practicing meditation for a number of years, and we usually laugh because my boyfriend at the time thought she was a bit of a hippie, and she probably was, and he called her a bubble head occasionally, nevertheless, was very interested in meditation and I'd had a little taste of it one time when I was frightened about getting on an airplane to go home from Sedona to Eugene in fact.
And she gave me this very simple mantra, Soha, and she said, this may help you with your anxiety. A plane had just crashed recently. And I was a little bit concerned, and I didn't have anything to lose. So I started repeating those syllables as I was going down the ramp to the plane and got on. And I was amazed that, in that moment, all the anxiety went away as I was repeating those syllables.
And suddenly, the takeoff was not white-knuckled like it usually was. But in fact, I enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the clouds beginning to go by. And I had the most wonderful trip home. So I had a little bit of a taste of meditation. I thought, well, I'm curious. But then, a year later, I actually was starting to teach in Virginia, and she invited me to take a meditation retreat with an Indian meditation master. And I was curious, and I was skeptical at the same time. I'm a neuroscientist, and I know that the brain creates our consciousness and what is meditation anyway? So saying that, I went to the retreat, and the first morning we were told that during the first meditation, the swami was going to walk around the room and he was going to initiate everyone there. And the initiation was described as an awakening.
Now, I didn't know what that meant, but though I was skeptical, I was curious, and I decided why not just sit there and see what happens? And when he came around, and he came to me, I felt his fingers on the bridge of my nose, and it was like right between my eyes. And when I felt that touch, I felt what felt like a current of electricity, like a mini lightning bolt, go from that place between my eyes down to the center of my chest. And it went right to the heart, not the physical heart, but what felt to me more like a heart than a physical heart had ever been. And from that place, I felt this exquisite sense of love and almost a feeling like golden nectar flowing out through my body and beyond. And words came to mind that were not scientific in any way.
They were, I'm home. I'm home. My heart is my home. And what's interesting to me is that that actually started this incomplete shift, a 180-degree shift in my life. And that I went back the next day to Virginia, where I was teaching, and I got up at 5:00 AM, and I began meditating. And literally, I've been meditating ever since. And it's because I somehow had the experience in that moment that just beneath the surface of my awareness, there is this quiet ecstasy. And I tapped it once, and therefore I knew it was there waiting for me if I could find it again just below that surface. And that started a whole shift in my life.
Adam Jacobs: I mean, that sounds profound and fortunate and reminiscent of a lot of other mystical experiences that I've heard, which almost uniformly seemed to be positive. Once in a while, they're, they're sort of scary. But why, as a scientist, when you had that experience, did you not just say, I've clearly lost my mind or something like that? Why did it intuitively seem true to you, do you suppose?
Marjorie Woollacott: I think part of it is that the experience is so strong and so different than anything you've experienced before. And I should say that I was born with a very strong rational mind and intellect, and I was always in my intellect and in my thoughts, and that worked very well as a neuroscientist. But I realized that I'd never really touched a deeper level of my being. And so when I did in that moment, there was this shock of recognition that that was possible for a human being to actually experience. And it was so much more than my intellect had ever given me. There was a sweet feeling of like, wow, that's what I can get in touch with if I really do. The effort to quiet my mind a little bit, as I did in that moment
Adam Jacobs: This is Kundalini energy that you are describing, right? That's the thing that shot down to the center of your chest and through your head. Could you tell us a little bit about what that means and how it functions?
Marjorie Woollacott: Sure. And I mean, obviously, the term Kundalini comes from, and all the different traditions of the world really have their own name for that sort of an energy that seems to happen with these spiritual awakenings. So I think you find that in Japan, it's called the Ki in China, Chi, I think, for example, in Judaism, it's called the Shechina, something of that sort. In African tribesmen, I think it may be called the Kia. It has a lot of different names, but it's the same energetic force that seems to happen when someone somehow is able to let go of their tight hold on their mental view of reality that this is a material world and go somehow deeper inside of themselves. And the way I would describe it, being the neuroscientist that I am, is it's almost as if these filters on my brain keep me very tied to my five senses and physical reality.
Those filters on my brain suddenly are quieted down to a very low level, and the filters come off, and I suddenly realize that I'm connected with everything else in the world. And that's part of my sense is the function of this energy is to actually help you feel that connection with other people and to realize that you're much more than what I would call this mind-body complex that's separate from everything else. It's like it helps to trigger that new awareness, and then hopefully, it doesn't stay for long for a lot of us, but it comes back the more we meditate and the more we do these practices of quieting the mind.
Adam Jacobs: So obviously, for a spiritual-minded person, that all sounds very reminiscent. I think that, like you said, there are many terms for it, lots of descriptions of it. Do you have any sense of what it actually is? Do you want to go there? Do you want to uncover it, does it have a purpose? Or is it just there? How do you see all that?
Marjorie Woollacott: I think that's an interesting question, and I think that I would say I'm happy to go there and I should say that we have a number of different lenses on reality depending on what tradition we're from, and also whether we're a scientist or someone who's spiritually oriented. But if you look at many of the Asian traditions, they talk about this energy as being really the conscious energy of the universe that when an individual then comes into their own separate mind-body complex existence, when we're born in this world that goes into a dormant state. And then, at some point in our evolution as a human being, that energy begins to come more toward a waking state. And then, at some point, something can trigger that awakening. And it can be triggered in many different ways, as we know. It can be trigger triggered by a spiritual master, for example, which was the case for me.
It can also be triggered spontaneously during, for example, a dream at night. It can happen out in nature. Some people find that when they do certain rituals like chanting, it can be triggered. But the point is that it's as if, at some point in your life, you're evolutionarily ready for seeing more than just through the five senses. And then this particular awakening happens. And I want to say something else that I find intriguing because in most of the spiritual traditions of Asia and probably the West as well, Christianity, the Abrahamic traditions, they talk about masters almost having an, I would say an ability to transmit this energy either through a look, a touch a word, and sometimes actually through the written word. And so if someone reads a very high scriptural text from a tradition, that text may actually allow this transmission or this awakening to occur.
Sometimes they use the analogy of one flame of a candle lighting the flame inside the individual, and then that flame begins to start blazing on its own as the person gets in touch with that higher energy. So those are metaphors for it. I don't know what else to say beyond the metaphors because, in scientific physiology terms, we don't understand how an energy can literally light up a human being. And yet it seems almost like we have a body-mind complex along with an energetic portion of us that can be awakened and drive us toward this expanded awareness of reality.
Adam Jacobs: Are you okay if people call that body versus soul?
Marjorie Woollacott: I think that's certainly potty possible. I think the reason is that it can be confusing sometimes. Because sometimes when we use the word mind, we sort of mean mind, body, and I think there, but yes, soul, spirit, whatever is that part of us that is really awakened.
Adam Jacobs: Okay. And last question on this, and I'm a little off script, but obviously, I think this is very important, you know, mentioned sort of the full-throated awareness that happens to some people, like whether it's spontaneously in a dream. And I know Paul Marshall's story, for instance, and I know Federico Faggin's story, people who had these dramatic moments, and it sounds like you had one also, but would you say it's fair to say that in everyday life that people have sort of like these micro doses of this, that they see the sunset in Sedona or they witness the birth of a child, or they listen to Mahler’s seventh symphony, and they have some sense, and I don't know how to explain it beyond this, but that there's something grander about reality than they had thought a couple of minutes ago. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but it leaves them feeling good temporarily and feeling that everything is right with the world. Is that the same thing? Would you say that that's tapping into the same source so that everybody has sort of tasted it whether or not we've had this undistilled version of it?
Marjorie Woollacott: Absolutely. I think that the issue for me is that, again, being the neuroscientist, I like to think of my physiological correlates of this feeling of being more awake. When you see that beautiful sunset, I mean when that's happened to me, literally the mind stops, and I'm simply in pure awareness of the sunset at that moment. There's no narrative going on about my activities during the day. I'm just fully present. And that's exactly what we're talking about. And it's simply that for some people, that is there in the moment of the sunset, and then our narrative comes back. And for other people, we somehow have something that seems to be just a little bit more permanent, may not be exactly the right word, but some sort we, we've gone through a door, and now we know that we can go through that door again and we keep searching how to get through that door to this expanded awareness for longer periods of time and more often.
Adam Jacobs: And therefore, people, I think, would be happier for longer periods of time, and they would enjoy life more and struggle less with all the anxieties and depressions and all the things that we're all going through. So it's very enticing the possibility of tapping into this, it seems to me. Yes. But I want to ask you a little bit about the brain, which I would say your average person thinks as you once did. That is the seed of all of our reality. And there is a concept called neuroplasticity, which you know much more about than I do.
But as I understand, the brain has a sort of set of neural pathways, which we might describe as habits or ways of thinking that are sort of we're accustomed to, but it's possible to break apart those neural pathways and to rewire them differently so that they work better, I guess. And so, for instance, OCD patients work to confront those pathways and then rewire them. Okay, so what is it that is doing the rewiring? And I know you talk about this a little bit in (your book) Infinite Awareness. How should your average person understand that? What does the brain rewire itself, and why didn't it do it earlier if it's so beneficial, why now? And it seems to correspond to a will that's making it go. How do we understand that whole concept?
Marjorie Woollacott: I think that's a great question. And in some ways, of course, it's the $64,000 question because the neuroscientists, of course, that come from a material view, say, well, it is simply a stimulus-response effect where something in the environment makes a stimulus to you that shows you that you could have more pleasure if you did something else, for example, if you meditated or spent more time in nature. And that's all it is; it's just your brain rewiring itself. But the point is that there are a lot of reasons why that probably isn't the case. And one of the ways that we are beginning to think more about that, and I think I mentioned Roger Sperry in my book, who was a Nobel Prize winner who said that though he was not a materialist, but he wasn't one that believed that consciousness was necessarily primary.
He believed that as our brains and minds get more and more complex with the complexity of evolution of, for example, the human mind and brain, that we get to a point where he calls it emergent interactionism, which is that at a certain point, our ideas can begin to affect our brain itself and our behavior, and we can share ideas across people. So if someone comes to me and tells me, wow, I just discovered this wonderful new way of feeling a lot more happiness. I spend like half an hour every day in nature, and then I meditate for a while, and we say, oh, well, that sounds interesting. Maybe I'll try it. And that idea then transfers to me in my mind, and then I try it, and then it can affect my brain. So that's one version of it. And other versions are that we truly are consciousness, meaning that we are interconnected with other people.
And this is what Bernardo Kastrup, who you've also interviewed, calls Analytic Idealism. And I think that's another way to understand that we are not just this body complex; we are consciousness that has temporarily identified with a mind and a brain and a body. And that consciousness that is our essential nature has great power to transform our brain and our body and our behavior once we, as you say, have an intention or give our attention to a particular new way of looking at things that has a very strong powerful effect on our brain output and can then give us the neuroplasticity you're talking about.
And I just want to say briefly that in my own book, Infinite Awareness, I talk about Sarah Lazar, her work at Harvard University Medical School, and how she's done a lot of studies with meditators now and shown that their brain literally becomes thicker and many areas of the cortex with meditation compared to people who don't meditate. And as they get older, this stays high compared to those that were the Cortex Thins.
Over time, other people and herself as well have looked at just eight weeks of training and showed the same thing with meditation training that certain parts of the brain get larger, your amygdala, which has to do with your fight-flight syndrome, gets smaller. So there's a lot of evidence about how simply having the intention to quiet your mind and meditate over at least eight weeks or perhaps somewhat longer in some people changes your brain and, as she noted, makes you happier, more content with things as they are in the world.
Adam Jacobs: So to pick up on that, and I know you're a very dedicated meditator, there was actually a quote from the book that I wanted to read to you, which says, “There have been thousands of studies on groups of meditators conducted under carefully regulated conditions with control, control groups, and measurable outcomes using statistical tools to analyze the findings of what they have found almost universally is just what I found in my own life. Meditation increases the subject's sense of well-being, lowers their anxiety, and improves their intentional focus.” But this is the critical part of it. You conclude, “These studies are largely ignored by neuroscientists.” So why would that be? I mean, how could that be if they're scientifically proven to do all these positive things? You would think that people would be jumping at them and that meditation would be a natural part of our culture at this part, which I don't think it is. What's the resistance about?
Marjorie Woollacott: So first of all, I'll just, I'll put back on my neuroscience materialist hat that I had on before I add these sense of experiences. And at that time, I was not interested in meditation. I was interested in my five senses and the material world, and I only believed that the brain was important and that there wasn't anything more than the brain. So I wouldn't even look at journal articles related to meditation or near-death experiences or any of these other topics related to spirituality. So I think that's what happens with my friends. I mean, when I was at the University of Oregon, and I began to do research in my laboratory, for example, on meditation, my colleagues would really ignore that part of my life.
And I also mentioned in the book when I asked, after I had tenure now and I knew that I had a good reputation at the university, could I teach complementary medicine to the pre-med majors in my human physiology department? And the department head said nobody will be interested in that complementary medicine, things like energy medicine and meditation and things of that sort. And he originally said you'll have to teach that to the non-major freshman because maybe they would be interested. But when I made a deal with him that we would try it once I found that the human physiology, juniors, and seniors pre-med wanted to take the course, and it was filled, overflowing in a few days after it went online.
And then registration ended up having about, I think about an extra 20 people that wanted to get into it that couldn't. And so, in fact, that course staged the rest of my career taught at the university, and the students loved it. So there's this very interesting paradox. The university professors say nobody really deeply cares about this. This is not real science. And the students are curious, and as I mentioned in Infinite Awareness, they're curious, but they are skeptical cause they are pre-med majors.
But gradually, as they look at the research when they're forced to do it in a course and write a paper, do you believe that, for example, energy medicine works or it doesn't work, show me the data from the literature. They then transformed themselves, and I should say a number of them decided not to go to medical school but to go, for example, to perhaps naturopathic school of medicine or if they went to medical school in acupuncture or something like that because they saw there are multiple ways of treating illness and disease and we need to look at this broader awareness. So in answer to your question, it's that frustration that when we are tied to a particular lens on reality, the materialist lens that I was brought up with in graduate school, et cetera, it is the only view we have. And I think the other answer to your question is there is a fear.
And the fear is that if I embrace something like meditation as a possible aspect of reality, or for example, near-death experiences and consciousness of being actually fundamental, my colleagues will now say that I am no longer credible. And if I'm not tenured, I may not get tenure. And of course, I think, as well, that happens all the time in universities, what people like myself say to young and new professors is always have a main line of research that is in the normal materialist realm, and then you can add your other research on top of it until you get tenure. And that's the only way you're assured of survival. And that's very sad to say in our modern academic environment.
Adam Jacobs: It also seems not so scientific, frankly. And I have a decent amount of interactions with people I have for many years, online and in person, a lot of very skeptical people. And as Jeff Kripal from Rice University says, jokingly, “All truth must be depressing” that it seems like anytime you try to show researched backed concepts and they say, show me peer review studies. And I say, okay, here are peer-reviewed studies, and they say like, oh, those weren't done right. There's always a reason why it's wrong, and it's inadmissible.
So there's another quote from the book, which is from one of the world's greatest physicists, Irwin Schrodinger, in which you say, and I'll just read it, and all this is because I have a love-hate relationship with the scientific world. It's so easy to have so much deep respect for the methodology and the achievements. And at the same time, it just seems like so remarkably close-minded, at least to these ideas. But he said, “The scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, but it could not tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet physical pain, or physical delight. It knows nothing of beauty and ugly, good or bad God and eternity. So, in brief, we do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us; the scientific worldview contains of itself, no, not a word about our own ultimate scope or destination.” So given that you have someone of his caliber who is willing to say something like that, and many others seem also frankly why, what's happening in the scientific culture, why are they so confident in the physicalist model, and why is it so unshakable, man, besides the tenure and the pressure, is there any other reason?
Marjorie Woollacott: Yeah, I mean for, again, I'll go back to when I was 28, 29 years old and still embedded in my materialist lens. One of the reasons is I had never had a mystical experience in my life. All I knew was what came in through my five senses. And so when somebody told me about a mystical experience would, as we often say, I would roll my eyes sort of subtly as they were talking about it, and I would end up trying to change the subject because I had no interest. And I think that that's one of the key issues I think in our society right now is most of these scientists that are in powerful positions in academia, national institutes of health, and other places like that have not had any of these experiences. They were also raised with a lens that said the experiences are impossible.
And I think the important point, too, is that even if they sometimes have them, and I think Gary Schwartz, who, in fact, has an essay in this book, spiritual Awakenings scientists and academics, described their experiences, said that he had some of those experiences in the middle of the night you were talking about. And he said he was a young scientist. No, this is just an illusion, nothing at all. I can ignore it. I can go back to my science and my reality through my five senses. So I think that that's what many people do. In fact, just a quick anecdote, A woman who is an MD told me a story of a man who was an MD during World War II, and he was injured, and he had a near-death experience in the hospital after he was injured. And after it had happened, he said to himself, this was purely pathological, this was not real, and it couldn't possibly be real.
And then the rest of his life, anytime a patient would say they had an experience like this, would tell them it was pathological, it was an illusion, it was not real until he was about 80 years of age and he was dying of cancer, and he was out fishing with a friend of his. And finally, he told him the story about his near-death experience during the war as if finally he was beginning to be curious and open that maybe that was absolutely real. So there is a thing, we are so caught in our dogma, and we haven't had the experience, and so we can't believe somebody else could have had it.
Adam Jacobs: They would be very offended at the word dogma applied to them. But it certainly seems that way sometimes. Not all there are many, many very open thinkers of all stripes, but there's a big cadre of people who believe the dogma is all on one side and none of it on the other. But speaking of dogma and scientists, the one more quote from Infinite Awareness, you write about Daniel Dennett, who is one of the archpriests of the other side, let's call it. He's a very, very bright man, of course, but he says, referring to our brains, that they are nothing more than “a cobbled together collection of specialized circuits, which conspire to produce a more or less well-designed virtual machine. This software of the brain performs a sort of internal political miracle. It creates a virtual captain of the crew.”
So that's the classic materialist way of thinking about the brain and consciousness. And this is the thing that caught my eye, and I wasn't familiar with this quote before, but look at the words he uses to explain this “well-designed miracle.” It's interesting to me that he reaches for terminology that he instinctively, I would think, would really oppose on its face. Do you suspect that deep down, everybody is perhaps more open-minded than they're willing to let on? Have more inroads been made in the world of idealism, of consciousness is fundamental, or do you think no, these people are just, they're really just sunk into it, and that's the way things are?
Marjorie Woollacott: Well, I think Daniel Dennett is probably one of those people that's extreme in terms of his belief system. But what I want to say is I think he is on the extreme of the continuum. And I should again give you another example from the University of Oregon where I was, one of the heads of the psychology department while I was there, would never really connect with me if I began to talk about meditation or something of that sort, and some of the research in my laboratory. And he just stayed silent, and I never knew what he felt, but I assumed he was a skeptic because he wouldn't engage with me. And just, I think it was like maybe last year I happened to see him on campus as I was walking across campus, and I just said hello to him and said something about what I was doing.
I was still doing research in perhaps these unusual areas, something like that. And he said, you would be surprised, I am also very much more open than you might think. And he would say that to me privately walking across campus. And maybe he has actually also evolved in that understanding over the years. And I think that what I have discovered is that in quiet places like over a beer or something like that, scientists will share their experiences with you, but in public, they will not.
And again, that's part of the fear of being rejected by their herd in a certain sense. I mean their cohort, and they don't want that to happen, and they're afraid that that might happen. And yet I think that was the beauty of writing that book with David LaMer on the scientists and academics describing their spiritual experiences is those people, because many of them are now retired or had tenure, were willing to share the experiences because they were safe. And three people that we asked to contribute to that book said no originally. And then, when I said, if you wrote it anonymously, would you be willing to share it? And they all said yes. And so we have three anonymous essays by non-tenured faculty which says something about this, I can tell it to you in the quiet of the home or over a beer, but I can't tell it to you in a public place.
Adam Jacobs: That's actually rather encouraging. Really glad you told me that. Oh, so that's interesting. Very interesting. But to go back to Dennett and the brain for one moment, I have two more questions on this, and then I have a big brain question and then one additional wrap-up kind of question. But consciousness is described as being; the word is epiphenomena, right? It's a secondary result of neural activity. What does epiphenomena really mean? And isn't it an extraordinarily fortuitous sort of result? If it's this random effect, I mean, how incredibly lucky that that's what it does as opposed to doing something else. Does that also not strike one as odd?
Marjorie Woollacott: Absolutely. And I think that that's obviously been the argument that people like myself, that believe consciousness is fundamentals say. And of course, I mean David Chalmers, as many of us know, coined that as the “hard problem” that all these people that say consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain don't have any idea how the brain creates this epiphenomenon. It is sort of, again, some sort of a magic illusion, and they wave their hands to give some sort of reasoning why it might happen, but they have no idea. And, of course, they talk about this promissory materialism, which is that someday we will figure out how the neurons create our consciousness, but we haven't yet. And we've been trying to figure it out for at least the last 50 or more years. So I think that that's the humor in some ways that they can't expand their understanding to say maybe consciousness is fundamental. And so they have to keep coming up with reasons why the brain might be able to do it if we just give our researchers another 10 or 15, or 20 years.
Adam Jacobs: Which to me just seems like an act of faith.
Marjorie Woollacott: Exactly. That's the dogma that we're talking about. Exactly that, I think to me; the key word right here is curiosity. I think skepticism is fine as long as it's a curiosity combined with skepticism where you want to look at the data and design new experiments to really test the data. And most of the people that I know that are these, what I would call really true skeptics that are dogmatic, skeptics, won't even look at the data.
And I think the example that has been given a number of times, and Steven Schwartz, one of the researchers on the fundamental nature of consciousness, has said he's been asked to debate with one of these people that is absolutely a dogmatic scientist that believes only in materialism. And he said on the debate when he says, well, I've written all of these articles to describe how consciousness is fundamental, and we have all of this proof of it. The person says, well, I've never read those articles, but because they can't be true and it wouldn't even engage in looking at the data. And there is the key problem, I think, is we need to have a curious engagement if we're going to move forward.
Adam Jacobs: And thank God you're doing what you're doing and helping to expand consciousness literally and figuratively in the scientific world and beyond. But I have time for two more questions. I want to ask you another thing about the brain, and I studied the brain in college and biology in high school and whatever, but I think most people didn't get very deep into it and didn't really understand it. I think, I know the brain is enormously complicated, but I started looking into the three major sections of the brain, the neocortex, the limbic, and the so-called reptilian.
And here's what I'd like to ask you about it. When I consider that system as a whole to me, I would say it's one very brilliantly constructed mechanism that has different functions, it does different things, but it seems that the view in the world at large is that we have something called an old or a reptilian brain, which is our primitive self, the one that's interested in survival and flight and fight response and that kind of thing. Is there some specific reason to think that we have three brains that were just sort of cobbled together over history, or can we look at it as I would prefer to, which is no, it's one brain with these different functions?
Marjorie Woollacott: Well, definitely, I mean, I think the bottom line is this one brain with different functions. And the reason that particular metaphor that we might use for a reptilian brain and the limbic brain, et cetera, versus the neocortex is simply that when people have looked at the evolution of animals, and they look at primitive animals, of course, the reptiles tend to have more, for example, the ponds in the medulla, which are that more reptilian brain and they have more basic instincts. And so they've looked at it more evolutionarily and well, as people have progressed into more complex abilities and behaviors, as animals have gone up toward humans, they seem to add more and more to their brain till they finally have this neocortex that we as humans have. And so, they tend to divide it in terms of the more simplistic behaviors of the animals versus the complex ones.
But the point is, as you said, it's like evolution doesn't keep us as three separate brains. This has all been with evolution designed to give us all that we have in terms of our complex nuanced behaviors. And I think all we're trying to say, though is that some parts of the brain, the Limbic system, do have this sort of fight-flight response, which in certain animals you can't really control very well. But in humans, for example, we have this neocortex that can actually have beautiful connections that can inhibit that fight or flight response for a moment for us to pause, and then we can make a decision that is rational to say, Hey, maybe in my pausing I now see that it's best not to either run away or to sock the person in the face. I can find an appropriate way to deal with this person in a rational, gentle way. So I think that it's useful to have those metaphors in some ways. But the point is that we're a very complex integrated organism as a human being.
Adam Jacobs: Right. Okay. And one final question on that is, as I was reading about it in the ballistic lens, which is the one, the system I know best, there is a conception of a hierarchy of worlds, spiritual worlds leading down to ours. And the world that we inhabit is basically a physical one, and then just above that is where the emotions reside above that is sort of a mental intellectual plane. And then above that is spiritual and beyond. And now I'm just spitballing. But it struck me that could it be that these different levels of the human brain are sort of designed, for lack of a better word, to interface with these different layers of reality that we can experience, almost like we had to be equipped to communicate with these different realms. I know you; you still have your scientist hat, and you can respond however you want. How does that strike you?
Marjorie Woollacott: I think that sounds very reasonable, and I should say that there's like the view that you were talking about in the Kabbalah, in the Pan-Indian view, they talk about these tavas that I mentioned again in infinite awareness that are a little bit like that. The topmost one is absolute supreme consciousness. And then, as the world begins to crystallize out from supreme consciousness, as the world is created, it goes through these various levels of what we might call contraction. And the bottom ones are things like the intellect and the emotions and the body, et cetera. So you see that type of thing. And they believe, of course, there are correspondences that we see between the physical reality, the mind, the emotional complex, et cetera. And, of course, the goal perhaps in the Kabbalah is to move in a certain sense up those levels of reality so that you now are in that supreme awareness though that you can function in the regular world. But you're also aware at the same time of this unity between all things.
Adam Jacobs: That's exactly right. And I have to make a more concerted study of the Vadic approach to all this because it sounds so similar to chakras, and these different levels that you're describing sound so familiar. And then when connecting it to scientific discovery is my ultimate interest in passion. And to me, that's all tremendously exciting. And my speaking of all that in my final question that I have time for today is I think you are still the president of the Academy for the Advancement of Post-materialist Scientists. First of all, I love that such a thing exists. I love the name. And what is your goal with that organization? And as a final thought, what's the one thing that you would like to tell people? What would you like the world to know at this point in your journey?
Marjorie Woollacott: Sure. So first of all, I just want to give a slight background on that. So Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona and I have gotten to know each other through our mutual research. And at one point, we were having lunch together with our spouses, and he said, Marjorie, how would you like to become the CEO of a new society? And we could call it the Academy for the Advancement of post-Materialist Sciences? And I broke into a smile because I love that name. There's something whimsical about a scientist saying, yes, I want to be a part of this society and organize it. And so that's what we've done, and I then have become the president of it. And my goal is really twofold. One is, of course, to share this knowledge with other scientists and non-scientists around the world that there is beautiful research showing a lot of data and evidence for the primacy of consciousness.
The other one is to also educate younger scientists. And so, in fact, we have a student group of undergraduates and graduate students that get together and actually meet with us. And in fact, they are going to be creating our next volume because that's the other thing we do. We create scientific volumes on consciousness, and the students are going to be creating their own volume about the primacy of consciousness from a student point of view. And so I think they are the people that are going to carry this information on to the next generation, and we need those young people to now be able to step forward with comfort and have mentors that can actually help them move the whole field forward.
Adam Jacobs: Wonderful. I wish you a huge amount of success with that endeavor and all your endeavors. And I want to encourage people to go out and check out all of the work of Marjorie Wilcott and everything that she's doing because I think it's of great significance. And I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. And it was a great pleasure to meet you, and I hope that our paths will cross again soon. And I want to encourage the audience to take a moment and to check out beyondbelief.blog and subscribe and stay on top of all the great stuff that we have going on. Thank you, Marjorie. It was really great to meet you. Thank you.
Marjorie Woollacott: Thank you very much.
Adam Jacobs: Bye-bye.