Our brain is a very complicated piece of physical machinery, but is it the source of our consciousness? Yes, we think, reason, and analyze, but is this all there is to consciousness. Science states we consciously use less than 5% of our brain; the other subconscious 95% controls automatic bodily functions, emotional programming and processing of our perceptions, and more that’s still not understand. Our subconscious is what shapes our reality and how we perceive it.
It is safe to say what we think we know is but a fraction of what the brain does.
During dementia progression, the person begins to experience what is technically a blackout of conscious awareness. These dementia episodes take them without their knowledge or consent. They might time travel to the past, get lost in delusional thinking, have emotional outbursts, or interact with people only they can see. This is all quite real, and when they return, they do not usually remember what happened.
Some people retain awareness while the episode is happening, like a helpless spectator unable to stop or direct the action. A lady I cared for was always apologizing after an episode, saying she could not stop herself from saying or doing those things. She got me thinking. What if a person could be trained in early dementia to continue observing themselves even if they could not control it? Would this create a way for them to live in two worlds eventually? Furthermore, with practice, be able to have some control over the episodes?
Part of raising personal consciousness has been through the development of an observer self. This self simply observes feelings, actions, and thoughts without judgment or trying to control them. By becoming aware of myself, I discovered most of my old issues repeat themselves throughout the years. So many have disappeared through recognizing what they are by sitting in the audience of my own movie. By becoming a witness, I edit the script by perceiving my life differently. Whenever you change perceptions, you change everything, including the brain’s neuronal connections and possibly developing new neurons. (Neurogenesis)
During the ’60s, most of my generation experimented with hallucinogens. What was amazing is I learned to live in both worlds while experiencing altered perception. Most times, others were not aware I was watching flowers grow out of their heads or colors swirl around them. I could marvel at the feeling of deep connectedness to everything during my altered state and still function as a separate entity in this everyday reality. Since beginning work with dementia, I have always felt their journey is probably, at times, very similar to “tripping” on psychedelics.
So, can the brain be trained to live in both worlds? If the observer self could consciously watch the dementia episodes and rewire parts of the brain, could it lessen or slow symptoms?
David Snowdon began The Nun’s Study in 1986 with 678 sisters ranging in age from 75-103, and at their death, their brains autopsied for Alzheimer’s. This is an on-going study that discovered that early linguistic abilities had a profound effect on the predilection of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. However, something else was discovered. Several of the nun’s brains had full Alzheimer’s damage, but they had not exhibited the dementia symptoms when alive.
Sister Mary, the gold standard for the Nun Study, was a remarkable woman who had high cognitive test scores before her death at 101 years of age. What is more remarkable is that she maintained this high status despite having abundant neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques, the classic lesions of Alzheimer’s disease.
What was different about the nuns who had Alzheimer’s brain damage yet no dementia? Could other people have cognitive disorders without exhibiting dementia? Could they continue to function as these nuns did despite the damage to their brains?
Is it possible to live in two worlds and still function? This question continues to plauge me.