From the recognition of how the soul rules the body (the microcosm), it is only a small step to recognizing how G-d rules the universe (the macrocosm). – The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p.311.
Paul Bach-y-Rita did not learn about the brain’s ability to rewire itself from science and medicine. True, he was a famous doctor and biomedical engineer, but his extraordinary insights and innovative cures had no basis in the neuroscience of the 60’s when his work first started to shake up the old mechanistic model of the brain.
Nor did he learn about it from kabbala or chassidic philosophy, although theoretically he could have because those sources had long been teaching principles of neuroeducation by then, as we discussed in last week’s newsletter.
Where he did learn about neuroplasticity was from his father, Pedro. This man had unfortunately suffered a massive debilitating stroke that left him half-paralyzed and speechless. After the standard course of rehab leading to minimal recovery, all medical opinion was against any further progress, but Paul’s elder brother George did not give up.
George decided to do train his father in small, progressive increments, as one would a child. He got his father to crawl, first leaning against a wall, then unsupported. After countless painful kilometers of this, he stood, then started to walk, to feed himself, to type, to work in the garden, and to speak. Finally after a year of home therapy, Pedro went back to work which he did for another seven years until he got a heart attack at the age of 72… while mountain climbing!
Paul’s loss was also his gain, for the autopsy revealed something remarkable. Paul realized that his father had recovered near-normal functioning despite the fact that 97% of his brain stem had been destroyed by the stroke. Something clicked in Paul’s brain too. He realized clearly that the only way this could have happened was if his father’s brain had somehow undergone a massive reorganization.
The conclusion seemed obvious but alas, what was incontrovertible fact to Paul was mere idle speculation in the eyes of the scientific establishment. They had been too long indoctrinated in the fixed map, fixed function view of the brain to be influenced by some small exceptional facts. No one took notice.
But with his newfound faith in the brain’s ability to change, Bach-y-Rita set out to use neuroplasticity to train the visual cortex to process touch signals from the back or the tongue instead of light signals from the eye, and it worked! Bach-y-Rita’s BrainPort technology allows people with vertigo to stand and walk for the first time without falling, and blind people to actually detect the size, shape and motion of remote objects in their environment, much as if they were seeing them with their eyes.
We can learn a lot from this story. First, where there is a will there is a way, even when physical obstacles and expert opinion stand in opposition. Also, look at the loyalty and commitment of a son to his father. How exemplary. Witness the humility and tenacity of the father to get down on the floor and crawl around for months, not knowing if this will ever lead to anything more. Be inspired by the wondrous nature of what is probably the most complex and dynamic entity in the cosmos, the human brain, the seat of the soul as well as the intellect that can meditate on its existence and implement its will, while seeming to be nothing more than a highly organized gray blob of chemically enhanced bio-electric spaghetti.
And finally, see what one single scientist can achieve. He can stand alone and press forward to prove his goal, even if the whole establishment of his peers negates or even mocks his views, for he knows that in the end the truth must prevail.
All these lessons are especially relevant in our times, known in Kabbala as “The Footsteps of Moshiach.” It is our will to actualize the redemption and that itself will hasten it and make it happen tangibly. There are definitely forces in opposition but with determination, humility and tenacity we will do whatever it takes, even if it looks odd to others in the interim. We only can take small steps but it is specifically those small steps that are most transformational. Just as Pedro needed specifically small steps to make a spectacular recovery, so too we need all our little mitzvos to add together and tip the scales, bringing the Days of Moshiach to fruition.
There is an allegorical lesson as well. The Jewish people are blessed with a spiritual leader, the Rebbe, whose title is an acronym of “Rosh B’nei Yisrael,” meaning Head of the Children of Israel. This reflects his role as our collective consciousness, like a dynamic and responsive central processor, an unsung inner power with such limitless possibility that however messed up the situation may get, we cannot despair because as with the human brain, we have only scratched the surface of what is possible to achieve.
And finally, there is the commitment to truth. Even if the whole world including all the experts were to say no, it’s not possible, the truth will ultimately prevail. And if this is the case in science, how much more so is it so regarding the ultimate future of humanity, about which leading scientists and theologians alike are coming to a common consent, namely that we do in fact live in an unprecedented era of unity emerging.
So hang in there. Moshiach is coming NOW!