When Daniel Defoe took up the pen to write his famous novel “Robinson Crusoe”, he was, in reality, finding inspiration (and in that sense being guided) by established and well documented fact. Like countless individuals in their schooldays, I read – and indeed re-read – the book several times over. However, it was not until in later years that I learned of Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish member of a sailing vessel, who, following a quarrel with the captain of his ship in 1704, requested that he be marooned on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Nor was this desert island a figment of the imagination. It was known as “Mas-a-Tierra”, some 400 miles west of Chile. There, Alexander Selkirk remained, in fact for some five and a half years, before being rescued by a passing ship. The record shows that he survived very well and following his return to Britain, went back to the sea again. The story first ‘appeared’ a periodical in 1713 and inspired (and was later almost totally eclipsed by) one of the most famous novels of its time.
This letter is the first of a kind which is intended to introduce others immediately following, in which we shall be focusing especially upon that human organ, which orchestrated and orchestrates what Alexander Selkirk, Daniel Defoe and indeed, every other human being ever to set foot upon the earth has acquired, namely the brain. Weighing in at a little over three pounds, the brain is by far the most complex and elusive organ in the human body, concealing as it does rich and mysterious complexities of mind, with their uniqueness of consciousness, intellect, personality and temperament. Nor, as increasingly we will discover, is the brain – merely or primarily – in some way analogous to anything so mundane or trivial by comparison as – say – the most sophisticated and advanced of computers, recorders or synthesizers.
The truth is that whilst amounting to all of these, the brain is incomparably more beside. From the time of our conception to the moment of brain death, both genetic and environmental ‘nudges’ and influences have been/are continually interfacing and interacting, in order to structure, shape, modify and further develop the brain’s progression over the entirety of each individual lifespan. Here then is no locus of pre-programmed, blind, mechanistic, predetermined functioning and growth; but rather a dynamic and uniquely innovative focus and centre of all aspects of the formation, direction, stability and reliability of every human form of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual progression and maturation.
To put all of this into its proper perspective we need – at least to some degree – to come to appreciate that not only does the brain control and regulate our conscious awareness of self and the world in which we are set; but that – potentially at any rate – the number of pieces of information that the brain can recognise, process and store, far exceeds even the number of elementary particles in an entire universe. Indeed, the brain’s crowning glory is no less than the achievement and maintenance of individuality and singularity of every individual who ever lived, possessing and discharging as it does an overall capacity and potential that far exceeds even its own incomprehensible imaginal power. ©SB.