Synapses and Soul Epigenesis


Why are souls ‘locked’ in earthly bodies? This very old question has received many answers, but after so many centuries, none consensual.

For some, this question has no meaning at all, since it presupposes a dualism of spirit and matter, of soul and body, in Plato’s way. And Platonic ideas are rejected by materialists: the soul is for them only a kind of epiphenomenon of the body, or the outcome of an epigenetic growth.

In the materialistic approach, one cannot say that the soul is ‘locked’, since it is consubstantial with the flesh: it blossoms fully in it, vivifies it, and receives all its sap from it reciprocally.

But can a spiritual ‘principle’ (the soul) share a material ‘substance’ with a material entity (the body)? How to explain the interaction of immateriality with materialism?

Descartes saw in the pineal gland the place of the union of the soul with the body. This small endocrine gland is also called conarium or the epiphysis cerebri. I can’t resist quoting Wikipedia’s definition of pineal gland, such is its wild poetry:

“The pineal gland is a midline brain structure that is unpaired. It takes its name from its pine-cone shape. The gland is reddish-gray and about the size of a grain of rice (5–8 mm) in humans. The pineal gland, also called the pineal body, is part of the epithalamus, and lies between the laterally positioned  thalamic bodies and behind the habenular commissure. It is located in the quadrigeminal cistern near to the corpora quadrigemina. It is also located behind the third ventricle and is bathed in cerebrospinal fluid supplied through a small pineal recess of the third ventricle which projects into the stalk of the gland.”

Raw flavor of learned words…

In the Veda, the pineal gland is associated with the cakra « ājnā » (the forehead), or with the cakra « sahasrara » (the occiput).

The main question of the coexistence or the intimate conjunction of soul and body is not so much the question of its actual place as the question of its reason.

The reason why souls are « locked » in the bodies is « to know the singular », says Marcile Ficin. Ficin is a neoplatonician philosopher. This explains why he is a priori in favour of soul-body dualism. Souls, of divine origin, need to incarnate in order to complete their ‘education’. If they remained outside the body, then they would be unable to distinguish individuals, and then to get out of the world of pure abstractions and general ideas.

« Let us consider the soul of man at the very moment when it emanates from God and is not yet clothed with a body (…) What will the soul seize? As many ideas as there are species of creatures, only one idea of each species. What will she understand by the idea of a man? She will see that the nature common to all men, but will not see the individuals included in this nature (…) Thus the knowledge of this soul will remain confused, since the distinct progression of species towards the singular escapes her (…) and her appetite for truth will be unsatisfied. If the soul, from birth, remained outside the body, it would know the universals, it would not distinguish individuals either by its own power or by the divine ray seized by it, because its intelligence would not go beyond the ultimate ideas and reason would rest on the eyes of intelligence. But in this body, because of the senses, reason is accustomed to moving among individuals, to applying the particular to the general, to moving from the general to the particular. »i

Indeed Plotin and, long before him, the Egyptians, believed that the soul, by its nature, participates in divine intelligence and will. « Therefore, according to the Egyptians, one should not say that sometimes it stays there and sometimes goes elsewhere, but rather that now it gives life to the earth and then does not give it. »ii

Life is a kind of battle, a battle, where souls are engaged, ignoring the fate that will be reserved for them. No one can explain to us why this battle is taking place, nor the role of each of the souls. « The dead don’t come back, you don’t see them, they don’t do anything (…) But why would an old soldier who’s done his time return to combat? ».

But war metaphors are dangerous because they are anthropomorphic. They deprive us of the quality of invention we would need to imagine a universe of other meanings.

The Platonicians have a metaphor on these questions, less warlike, more peaceful, that of the ‘intermediary’.

They consider that human life is ‘intermediate’ between divine life and the life of animals. And the soul, in leading this intermediate life, thus touches both extremes.

This short circuit between the beast and the divine is the whole of man. Obviously, there is such a difference in potential, but when the current flows, the light comes.

The soul of the newborn child knows nothing about the world, but it is potentially able to learn anything. Its synapses connect and reconfigure several tens of millions of times per second. We can now observe this curious phenomenon in real time on screens. This intense (electro-synaptic) activity testifies to the adventure of the emerging « spirit », meeting the succession of singularities, caresses and rubbing, shimmers and shininess, vibrations and murmurs of tastes and flavours.

The Vedic vision includes this systemic, self-emerging, non-materialistic image.

Veda and neurological imaging meet on this point: the passage through the bodies is a necessary condition for the epigenesis of the soul.

i Marcile Ficin, Platonician Theology. Book 16. Ch. 1

ii Ibid. Ch.5

Leaving aside Joy and Sorrow


All religions, all beliefs, play their part in this world.

They are all quite different in a sense, But they all play a role in the current global, political and moral crisis.

Whether Vedic, Egyptian, Zend, Chaldean, Jewish, Buddhist, Hinduist, Christian, Islamic, all religions have something essential in common: they all have some kind of responsibility for the misfortune of the world.

Whether they say they are « outside » the world, or « inside » the world, they are responsible for what they say or let say, for what they do or let do on their behalf.

They are part of the world, taking on the most eminent place, that of judge, master and sage.

How could they not be linked to the actions and speeches of their followers?

How can we not judge them as much on what they say as on what they don’t say?

How can we not bring their great witnesses to the public arena and ask their opinion on the state of the world, as we would on election night or on a day of disaster?

We don’t really know where the chain of prophets began or when it will end.

Is the seal of the word sealed for eternity? Who will tell?

Will the Messiah return? Who will see that day?

Will eschatology come to an end? Who will hear the final Word?

If ten thousand years is not enough to lower the pride of the presumptuous, let us give ourselves a hundred centuries or a million millennia, just to see what will remain of the dust of words once tables, once stones, once laws.

Lists of names can be listed, to stimulate memories. How far back do we go?

Agni, Osiris, Melchizedek, Zoroaster, Moses, Hermes, Buddha, Pythagoras, Isaiah, Jesus, Muhammad…

In a few million years, we will see that they all shared their differences, their aspirations, their visions, their breaths, their ends.

What does the « religion » of these prophets have to do with « entities » now called Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United States, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, India, Greece, China, France, Germany?

Will History teach us some day the essence of the difference between the « religion » of the Khârijites, the Zaydites, the Imâmites, the Ismaili Shi’ites and the Sunni ‘majority’ of Islam?

What was really the origin of the « religion » of the Nizarrians, and that of Hassan ibn al-Sabbah’s Assassiyoun?

What is the « religion » of the Taliban?

These questions are pointless, useless, apparently. There are better things to do, as it seems, such as fighting, killing people, bombing cities, beheading bodies, murdering children.

The religions of the past illuminate the wanderings of the present and those of the future with a special light, a premonitory aura.

Their slow epigenesis must be observed.

Their (implicit, slow) convergence must not be excluded, in the long run, beyond their differences.

Memory is necessary for understanding the present, as time takes its time.

But who still has time to remember?

Religions highlight, with words, curses and targeted blessings, much of the world’s misfortune.

They reveal the fragility, weakness, instability, irreducible fracture of Man.

They encourage us to take a long and global perspective, to observe the events of the day, to understand them, to anticipate their consequences, and to overcome pain, anxiety, fatigue and the desire for revenge, the drive for hatred.

For more than fifty-five centuries, several religions have been born and deployed in a limited geographical area, it is worth noting.

This privileged area, this node of beliefs and passions, extends from the Nile Valley to the Ganges basin, via the Tigris and Euphrates, the Oxus, and the Indus.

Geography changes more slowly than the hearts of mortals….

Between the Indus and the Oxus, which country best reflects today the past millennia, the erased glories?

Pakistan? Afghanistan?

How can we forget that Iran and Iraq (like Ireland) take their names from the ancient Aryas, attesting to the ancient Indo-European ties of Persia, Elam and Europe?

The Aryas, long before they even received their « Aryan » name, founded two major religions, the Veda in India, and the Zend Avesta in Iran.

Colossal forces! Immaculate memories!

Antoine Fabre d’Olivet reports that Diagoras de Melos (5th century BC), nicknamed « the atheist », a mocking and irreverent character, discredited the Mysteries by disclosing and ‘explaining’ them. He even went so far as to imitate them in public. He recited the Orphic Logos, he shamelessly revealed the Mysteries of Eleusis and those of the Cabires.

Who will dare to unveil today, like Diagoras, the actual mysteries of the world to the amazed crowds?

« Religion » is a prism, a magnifying glass, a telescope and a microscope at the same time.

« Religion » is above all an anthropological phenomenon.

Dogma bring nothing to this debate, or rather ignite it without benefit to the heart or the mind.

A global anthropology of « religion » could possibly reveal some constants of the human mind.

These constants do exist. Thus, the latent, impalpable or fleeting feeling of « mystery ».

This « mystery » is not defined. It escapes any categorization. But implicitly, indirectly, by multiplying approaches, by varying angles, by accumulating references, by evoking the memory of peoples, their sacredness, perhaps we sometimes manage to see the shadow of its trace, its attenuated effluvium.

There is also the idea of a unique, principal, creative divinity. It is found in various forms, in ancient times, long before Abraham’s time, before the Zend, even before the Veda.

Constant again is the question of origin and death, the question of knowledge of what we cannot know.

What breath then goes through the pages of the Book of the Dead, the manuscripts of Nag Hammadi, the hymns of Ṛg Véda or the Gāthās of Zend Avesta? What breath, even today, runs through the world, in a time so different from the origins?

This breath, it is still possible to perceive it, to breathe its smell.

A world of ideas and beliefs, distant, astonishing, serves as a foundation for today’s world, filled with violence and lies, populated by « saints » and murderers, wise men and prophets, fools and crooks, death cries and « divine winds » (kami-kaze).

Who, today, thinks the world’s destiny?

When reading the Upaniṣad, let us also think of the « masters of the world », the « gnomes » enslaved to the banks, the political « dwarves » governing the peoples, perched on the shoulders of centuries?

« Those who are agitated in ignorance consider themselves wise. They run wildly around like blind people, led by a blind man. »i

It is a fact that we often observe, at the highest level, hypocrisy, lies, baseness, cowardice, and much more rarely wisdom, courage, truth.

But it is also a fact that anything can happen, always., at any time.

Anything is possible, on principle. The worst. The best. The mediocre. The unspeakable. The unheard of.

The world is saturated with ideas from all ages. Sometimes, from nowhere, new forms are born, shimmering above the rubble and catacombs, relics and hypogoria, crypts and hidden treasures.

Who will see these incredible visions, yet to appear?

Those who will be able to « meditate on what is difficult to perceive, penetrate the secret that is deposited in the hidden place, that resides in the ancient abyss ».

Those who « leave aside the joy and sorrow. »ii

i KU. 2.5

iiKU. 2.12

A moment without how or why


“Synaptic plasticity” is one of the contemporary metaphors of the plasticity of nature and culture. In the past, deities were also plastic. Ovid or Apuleius poetically described their « metamorphoses ». Among the Greeks and Latins, Zeus or Jupiter could take all forms. The idea of the plasticity of God is therefore not new. But among Christians, this idea is pushed as far as possible, with the paradoxical form of « kenosis ».

Madness for the Greeks, scandal for the Jews: Christ is a man and he is also God.

He is not the God of the Hosts, but the God in his glory, the Lord on the right hand of the Lord, the Messiah of the end times.

Madness, scandal, is that this God in all his Glory is also a God ignored, humiliated, tortured, mocked, crucified as a stateless slave.

Madness, scandal, is an infinite God, eternal, creator of the worlds, reduced to the state of a human wreck, a pantelante, dying on the wood, in the midst of rotten corpses.

Kenosis, from the Greek kenoein (to empty), reflects this strange idea of the descent to earth of a God emptied of himself and his power.

Who can do more can do less. Hegel did not hesitate to use divine kenosis as a metaphor for a kind of philosophical kenosis. Without fear of any celestial lightning, Hegel put the former at the service of the latter.

Kenosis is a free erasure of divinity in favor of human freedom, and this erasure is part of the divine project. This paradoxical idea of kenosis can also illustrate, according to Hegel, the philosophical process of voluntary self-dispossession, the dispossession of subjectivity.

Divine kenosis signalled the possibility of a space and time of transcendental emptiness. Philosophical kenosis now applies to man himself. Man is no longer a fixed substance, he is a disappearing subject.

To make an image, Hegel multiplies the figures of God’s exit from oneself. The German language is rich in possibilities in this field: Ent-zweiung, Ent-fremdung, Ent-aüsserung. These forms of exteriorization, and even alienation, are not to be taken lightly from a God who fills the world, or who envelops the world with his thoughts and his Word.

By philosophically recycling an eminently theological concept, Hegel wants to « bring to light the kenotic essence of modern subjectivity, » comments Malabou.

Hegel is ready to bend any wood, including cross wood, to support his speculation.

But in what way is « modern subjectivity » kenotic? How does it mimic the divine recess? By its own emptiness?

The emergence of the concept of kenosis on the philosophical level indicates that Christ first became a noetic representation. For Hegel, it represents, it embodies a speculative idea, that of « absolute truth ». « If Christ is to be only an excellent individual, even without sin, and only that, the representation of the speculative idea of absolute truth is denied.

The Christ who died on the cross, descended to the bottom of the abyss, represents « the negativity of God relating to himself ».

God denying himself represents the absolute truth of his own negation. Is this not the figure of a « plastic » God, par excellence?

« Plastic » refers to what can take on a shape, but then resist deformation to a certain extent. In the philosophical context, what is more « plastic » than the mind? νοὖς (noûs), in its passive reception state, is « the sleep of the spirit, which, in power, is everything » says Hegel in his Philosophy of the Mind. Plasticity contaminates everything. If the mind is originally plastic, as its epigenesis shows us, then the very concepts it can express must also be plastic in some way. The mind is characterized by its innate ability to receive forms, but also to give forms. He extends this property to his own form, which he can deform, reform, reform, transform, transform, by epigenesis, by work or by any other appropriate operation.

Thinking, by its very nature, takes itself as an object of thought. This « thought of thought », this noesis noêseos, this notic plasticity, is the philosophical translation of what was originally a primordial neurobiological property. Thinking is a kind of living being, a being independent of the one who thinks it, and who in this own life, takes itself for form and for future transformations. Thinking takes itself and expands itself freely. Hegel uses the word Aufhebung, which can be translated as « divestment ». Aufheben combines the senses of Befreien (to liberate) and Ablegen (to get rid of).

This withdrawal movement is reflexive. It can be applied to itself. There is always the possibility of a succession of the succession, a divestiture of the divestiture. But who is the subject of this second degree succession? Who decides to divest himself of his act of divestment, and to do what with it?

In other words, what can be generated by a moment of true freedom? What can we hope, at best? Another moment of pure freedom, with no connection to any of the above? The establishment of a new causal chain, imposing its own determination until another possible free moment “arrives”, a moment without how or why, and where, for reasons that are not reasons, would another moment of pure freedom follow?

In reality that is a mystery.

The origin of the transcendental


C. Malabou’s Critique of Neurobiological Reason is an anti-Changeux charge. Neurobiology, with its young arrogance, has proceeded to a « capture of metaphysical ideas ». Neuroethics takes on the discourse on the Good, neuro-aesthetics the discourse on the Beautiful. All this may worry the professional philosopher. Neuroscience has become « an instrument of philosophical fragmentation ».

Immediately the image of cluster bombs tearing up bodies in Vietnam comes to mind. We are still going astray, no doubt.

But Malabou hammered the point: « The emergence of neuroscience is a pure and simple threat to freedom – the freedom to think, act, enjoy or create. « It’s a kind of « mental Darwinism ». Epigenesis selects synapses. The size of the brain increases four and a half times after birth. The genesis of the synapses extends to puberty, and during this time education, the family, social and cultural environment, are part of the nervous system. Our brain is therefore largely what we do with it, it results from life itself, day after day, with its hazards, its surprises, and its hazardous wanderings.

So is synapse development determined or not? This is the great philosophical question that runs through the time, symbolized by the battle of the Titans. Einstein versus Planck. The ultimate interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Malabou sums it up: « The object of science has undoubtedly become freedom ».

This debate is actually very old. To stick to the modern, he began with the acrimonious diatribes between Erasmus and Luther. We didn’t get out.

The gene adds a new stone to the concrete of determinism. The content of the DNA is apparently invariant. Hence the idea of code, of program. Mice and humans alike are genetically programmed. But then, how can we account for the surprises observed during the epigenesis, if only the determinism of a code and a program are involved? Epigenetic plasticity raises delicate questions, which the overly simple image of the DNA « program » is unable to address. Changeux proposes to abandon the notion of a genetic program in favour of interaction between cells and « cellular communications ».

But if we leave a simplistic determinism, how far can the field covered by neurobiology go in theory? This field covers a wide field, and extends to society and culture. These are also consequences of the synaptic plasticity of the nerve networks of millions and billions of people. Conversely, societies and cultures favour the epigenesis of brains. An entire research programme could be based on the exploration of the biological foundations of culture. For example, moral judgment would only be the brain’s translation of the neurobiological phenomenon of empathy. Another feature of neurobiological origin specific to humans is the existence of a sensitivity to the « beauty of parsimony ». This trait would be useful to the species because it allows the detection of shapes, groups, ordered distributions. From this, Malabou deducts a conclusion, which brings us closer to our initial question: « Epigenetic freedom appears precisely today as the very origin of the transcendental. »

Epigenesis is the condition of freedom; and freedom is the foundation of the very transcendental idea. Hence this question: freedom, a possible window on transcendence?

The free brain is able to reflect on itself, and to provoke actions and experiences that affect it in return. In the not too distant future, it can be expected that human brains will be able to design and carry out structural modifications on human brains, first experimentally and then on a large scale.

Could we consider changing the level of consciousness, could we awaken men to other forms of experience through neurobiological modifications? The practices of shamans from different periods and different regions of the world during the initiations show us that the ingestion of sacred plants can cause such results. So why not an equivalent with psychotropic drugs, specially sharpened for this purpose?

If there is indeed a « neural man », there are also, iobviously, a social man, a cultural man, a spiritual man, who cannot be reduced to heaps of genes and neurons. There is also a free man, — a critical man, who can and must exercise his mind in order to « freely criticize » the conditions of his own evolution, be it material, neural and perhaps psychological.