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Brain, Mind and Spirit

by Lawrence L. Schkade, Ph.D., C.S.P.
Scientific Symposium I    1988

Lord, let me be an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is sadness, joy; where there is darkness, light.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; not so much to be understood, as to understand; not so much to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

--Saint Francis of Assisi

True religion means putting spiritual insights into practice in daily life. Each day, each minute, in our home, school, workplace, or wherever we are, we respond to circumstances, experience emotions, make choices and take actions. But our feelings, decisions, and behaviors often leave room for improvement. If we wish to experience lives that are truly more spiritual, how can we be changed? What can we do?

This presentation combines spiritual teachings with concepts from science and common sense problem-solving methods to suggest the brain, thinking styles, pituitary gland and cognitive therapy are related. The presentation includes a practical approach that we can use to help change our faulty thought habits and participate in becoming more receptive to Adjuster leading (*1205). With this leading we can be guided to live the kind of life of love and service that Jesus lived and taught which we so earnestly desire to emulate.


The progressive development of the human brain has enabled gradual increases in the intellectual and spiritual capabilities of Urantians, for mind is bestowed by the adjutant mind-spirits according to the capacity of the brain (*670). The human brain may be viewed as an organ that receives and processes mind energy, much as the eye is an organ that receives and changes light-frequency physical energy into electrical impulses processed by the brain, and the ear processes sound-frequency physical energy, as summarized in Figure 1. Species with small brains tend to become extinct (*686; 688), but those that developed larger brains became more intelligent and had better survival histories (*697). Many species today are being threatened with extinction by humans with their comparatively superior brains. Indeed, the development of species in the future will be controlled by brain growth, which will typify future epochs of animal evolution and planetary progress. (*688)

The human brain is vivid evidence of brain evolution, the latest edition in the long sequence of species brain developments, and a composite of multiple brain levels inherited from species such as marine animals, mammals, and human ancestors. The three levels of the human brain are termed in science as reptilian, limbic or paleomammalian, and the cerebral cortex, as shown in Figure 2. The reptilian level controls autonomic functions such as breathing and digestion and is the source of basic animal drives, including territoriality, reproduction, safety and others. Limbic-level functions are associated with those characteristic of mammals such as imprinting, bonding, nurturing, primitive social groups, and emotions. The cerebral cortex is involved with functions often viewed as being more distinctively human such as abstraction, written symbol and language processing, self-awareness, reflection and spirituality.

Urantians are a two-brained species, and the cerebral cortex has two hemispheres. (*566) Three-brained races on other planets are more capable of intellectual and spiritual functioning than are two-brained mortals, who, in turn, have greater capabilities than one-brain types. On Urantia, Dr. Roger Sperry was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1981 for his discovery of the specialization of the cerebral hemispheres. The left hemisphere involves intellectual activities described as verbal, analytic, rational, sequential, time oriented, active, critical, planning and controlling, as shown in Figure 3. Right hemisphere activities are described as nonverbal, spatial, holistic, imaginative and creative, impulsive, simultaneous, receptive, intuitive, and spiritual. These are descriptions of hemisphere specialization for most right-handed persons. Hemisphere specialization for some left-handed persons is the reverse of that described above.

The specialization of the cerebral hemispheres is illustrated, for example, by differences in language processing. The left hemisphere processes symbolic forms of language by understanding incoming symbols, words and sentences, and also speaking them as output. If there is brain damage forward of the ear in the left hemisphere in what is called Broca's area, a person cannot speak. If the damage is closer to the ear in what is termed Wernicke's area, a person cannot understand symbols or spoken words, and, if the person can speak, it will not be intelligible. On the other hand, if there is brain damage in the right hemisphere in the nonverbal language processing area, the person will speak in a monotone, will not change facial expressions, and usually will not use hand or arm gestures or use emphasis when speaking.

While everyone alternately uses both brain hemispheres, as well as all brain levels in their normal functioning, many persons tend to make dominant use of one hemisphere as their cognitive style of information processing and decision making. Extreme dominance tends to occur more often in males than females, and this is believed to be hormonally caused. Females tend to be more often right-hemisphere dominant or dually (equally) dominant than males. Evidence indicates that left dominance in males and right dominance in females is partially culturally induced and dual dominance in females is partially the result of a larger neural connection between the cerebral hemispheres.

Dominance is also reflected in the choice of type of work or profession. For example, persons who choose to become accountants and auditors (left dominant) have very different stylistic and behavioral characteristics than do persons who are studio artists and create paintings (right dominant). These contrasts are also reflected electrophysiologically by the significant differences in the hemisphere EEG patterns of accountants and artists (Schkade and Potvin). There is limited scientific evidence concerning when or how brain hemisphere dominance develops, but it is believed that dominance is partially genetic in origin and also partially learned.

It is important to stress that persons who are dominant in opposite hemispheres literally think and speak in different cognitive languages. Many couples include such opposites, requiring a lot of discussion to talk out differences in perceptions, cognitions and views, and together they have a more complete perspective. Couples with persons dominant on the same hemisphere have less need for discussion, since they tend to have similar perceptions and interpretations. Being left-hemisphere dominant does not make one superior to a person who is right dominant, nor vice versa. Instead, these differences only indicate that some persons differ significantly in several respects, including their styles of perceiving inputs, cognitive organization of the information, some evoked behaviors, and various skills and preferences for performing particular tasks or activities. For instance, studio artists wish to be creative, are superior in spatial skills and like to paint. In contrast, accountants tend to be much more punctual, well organized, prefer structured tasks that involve rules, and work well with the detailed data required for auditing.

Unless there is sufficient knowledge, love and understanding, a person who is cognitively dominant in one hemisphere will tend to have a biased, subjective view of others and the world in general. Such a lack of objectivity can easily lead to criticism and judging if one does not know and accept that others can be different, naturally and basically, in their thinking styles. To use my cognitive style as an arbitrary standard and to expect that others should perceive, think, decide and behave as I do smacks of egoism, ignorance and arrogance.

Pituitary Gland

Pituitary type gland functioning is essential for spirit receptivity for mortals on all worlds. In addition to the three orders of mortals who are either one-, two- or three-brained, there are also three groups of mortal mind design for contact with spirit affairs. These mind designs differ primarily in terms of gland chemistry and number of glands (one, two or three) comparable to the pituitary, and Urantians have two such glands (*566). The pituitary gland is nestled in a cranial bone behind the optic nerve in the base of the skull.

It is often implied that we have a single pituitary gland, but in fact the gland "consists of two separate glands--the adenohypophysis or anterior pituitary gland and the neurohypophysis or posterior pituitary gland. The anterior and posterior divisions of the pituitary gland develop from different embryonic structures, have different microscopic structures, and secrete different hormones. The anterior pituitary develops as an upward projection from the embryo's pharynx, whereas the posterior pituitary develops as a downward projection from the brain. The anterior gland has the microscopic structure of an endocrine gland, whereas the posterior gland has the structure of nervous tissue." (Anthony and Thibodeaux).

In terms of spirit reception, the organization and functioning of the pituitary gland is crucial, for the inherent imagination and spiritual receptivity is definitely influenced by this differential chemical endowment. (*566) In each of the three spirit-reception types, the larger the number of pituitary-like glands the greater the spirit receptivity and spiritual inclination during mortal life.

Assuming that in the near term we must live with the capabilities and limitations of our own brain capacity, thinking style, and pituitary endowment, let us consider how we can use the mind and will loaned to each of us, insights about our prior learning, desire to grow spiritually, and some ideas about our cognitive processing to enhance our spiritual growth and progression into rebirth and the kingdom of heaven.

Mind and Spirit

This presentation combines spiritual teachings with concepts from cognitive psychology and common-sense problem-solving methods. It describes a practical approach that we can use to change our thought habits and participate in becoming more receptive to Adjuster leading. (*1205) Then we can be guided to live the kind of life of love and service that Jesus lived and taught and which we so earnestly desire to emulate.

The process of being reborn spiritually is most often a gradual, daily process that requires sincere desire and a lot of effort in striving to live a life of faith and worship. (*1099) It involves the shifting of the seat of one's being or identity from the mortal human mind (limited by physical sensory inputs, imperfect perception, conditioned behaviors, level of intellect, etc.) as its dominant vehicle for functioning to a morontia level of mind. (*1229) Then, true inner spirit guidance, love and service are increasingly actualized in daily life.

Spiritual growth involves multiple phases, from the level of facts and things to highest level of true reality and cosmic insight, as seen in Figure 4. It begins with the gift of awareness of the kingdom of heaven. When we believe that the Father loves us with an infinite love, we are entering the kingdom of God (*1537), but spiritual ascension comes from a life of service following rebirth. (*1569) The spirit-guided person uses free will to try to be more loving and serving in daily life. (*1216) As we have the desire and strive to be transformed, Adjuster guidance and spiritual strength are received as we attempt to change intentions, thought habits, resulting emotions, and behaviors to higher levels of quality. (*1206)

After entering the kingdom we gradually become more trusting, loving, and serving. (*1858) As we seek to do the Father's will, it is revealed to us through inner thoughts and insights as we attempt to act in love in situations in daily life. It is important to keep in mind that we can only have a sincere desire and be receptive to growing spiritually. All spiritual growth, as is also true of faith, is a gift from our Heavenly Father and not our own doing. (*1204) The good news is that the kingdom of God is within us; the path to eternity is here, now. (*1861)

Figure 5 is designed to summarize the interplay of the divine and the human in our ascension (*1207), the spiritual with the practical, and the conversion process that is essential for spiritual living, rebirth, and progressive ascension in the life of divine fellowship.

Changing Our Attitudes and Thoughts

The process of being reborn requires that childish, immature, selfish and subjective ways of thinking and behaving be eliminated and replaced with wholesome, loving, objective and selfless responses, thoughts, emotions, and actions. For example, feelings such as fear, anger, envy, jealousy, suspicion, intolerance and negativity are mental poisons. (*1204) These feelings of dis-ease indicate the need to transform thought habits.

Mortal mind is a temporary intellect system, loaned to us for a lifetime, that we can use to accept or reject the prospect of eternal life, and mind is about all in universe reality that is subject to our will. Human consciousness rests gently on the electro-chemical life machine below and delicately touches the spirit realm above. (*1216) Mind is our ship, the indwelling spirit is our pilot, and human will is the captain. (*1217) Man is a part of nature, yet can transcend nature; is finite, but is indwelt by a spark of infinity; has the urging of angels, but has animal emotions that oppose them; and has access to a fountain of faith, but it is polluted by the poisons of fear. (*1221-1224) Our task is to see ourselves as others see us (*553) and then to change our minds, our software. That is possible by receiving strength and guidance and using proven methods to transform old faulty thoughts into new ones.

Psychologists have discovered that the way we react to situations causes emotions and that we can learn to be peaceful and happy in almost any situation. The principles for this approach to learning to be peaceful are easy to understand. The approach is based on the analysis of the Situation-Thought-Emotion sequence seen as the A-B-C model in Figure 6. It shows that A (the Situation) does not cause C (the Emotion), but it is B (the thought or attitude about A) that causes C (the Emotion). If our attitudes toward situations are unrealistic and irrational, we must replace them with rational, realistic thoughts. If we change the attitude which causes the emotion, the emotion will gradually disappear. In other words, think of irrational thoughts like we think of superstitions. For example, believing that we need everyone to love us or that we must never make mistakes is like believing that black cats cause bad luck. The good news is that we can change our thoughts, our attitudes, our minds to trust God, grow in love, and serve our neighbor.

Figure 6 shows that leftover childish ways of thinking that are carried over into adult life can cause distorted thoughts and distorted emotions. The Apostle Paul wrote about replacing childish thought habits with mature thinking. The cognitive therapy approach offers insight into how thought reactions to situations trigger emotions. A lot of the time, irrational thoughts come from misreading or misinterpreting an action or situation (Beck). This can happen because we have somehow retained thought responses that we learned through the eyes of a child. Although we are mature physically and intellectually, we may have retained some immature responses to certain types of situations, as illustrated in Figure 7. For example, when we hear a tone of voice or see a type of facial expression or mannerism in another person that is very much like that which we associated, as a child, with fear, pain, frustration or disapproval, this can trigger an immediate thought reaction that can be irrational. This type of thought is often not reasoned consciously. It is a "knee jerk" thought reaction triggered by a childhood memory that still pulls our thought strings.

The keys to growing spiritually are (i) consecrating our will to do our Father's will; (ii) asking for the guidance and strength that is freely given to all who try to change; (iii) strive to eliminate faulty thought patterns that are immature, selfish, poisonous, and unloving by using methods such as proposed by cognitive therapy; and (iv) being reborn gradually through Adjuster activity to become a loving, serving person. Ascending in the kingdom is a tough challenge, a daily effort! It is part of our cross of responsibility. The keys are sincerity and strength of desire. The price of ascending is our will, mind, our very selves. Although everyone is invited, few choose to pay the price to be reborn, even though the guaranteed rewards will be fantastic!

Countering Distorted Thoughts

The cognitive therapy approach offers practical ways to counter unrealistic and irrational thoughts (see the examples in Figure 8 on the following page). It is important to distinguish rational from irrational thoughts. The exercise at the top of the page illustrates the difference. The rest of the page gives examples of types of irrational thoughts and examples of counter thoughts that disarm and replace distorted, negative, unrealistic, and judgmental thinking.

To apply this approach (i) pray for guidance and strength as you begin this effort; (ii) take note of an unloving thought that causes dis-ease, fear, anger, resentment or other negative feeling; (iii) ask for insight in determining objectively what is irrational about that troublesome thought; (iv) ask for the wisdom and logic to develop an effective counter for the faulty thought habit; (v) pray for the awareness and strength to actually counter the faulty thought; and (vi) give thanks for the progress that results from this effort.

The speed of success is very dependent on the strength of belief. The stronger one believes an irrational thought, the more time it will take to successfully counter it. But the stronger one believes the counter thought, the less time it will take to eliminate the irrational thought. In the beginning, our irrational thought is usually stronger than our counter thought. Years of irrational thinking are not wiped out in a few minutes. Yet, every child of God who earnestly tries to eliminate faulty thought habits will be blessed with a measure of success.

It is certain that our Heavenly Father will support every sincere effort we make to change our thoughts and minds and to grow spiritually. The keys of the kingdom are sincerity, more sincerity, and more sincerity. All men have the keys. Men use them--advance in spirit status--by decisions, more decisions, and by more decisions. The highest moral choice is the choice of the highest possible value, and always--in any sphere, in all of them--this is to do the will of God. (*435)

It is very important to be patient, considerate, understanding, and forgiving of ourselves even, as we try to be with others (Burns). It may be much easier at times to recognize intellectually what is imperfect in our old learned thinking responses than to counter and change them. It takes effective persistence to remake thought patterns, just as it takes time and a lot of sincere desire, dedication, and repeated effort to change other long-time habits. We are often too demanding, expecting ourselves to change more quickly than we are able, and then are discouraged and depressed when we feel changes are coming too slowly.

The findings of recent research on twins in Figure 9 suggest that half or more of personality characteristics are apparently inherited. This could mean that much of our dispositions toward certain feelings, thoughts, and emotions may be antecedent and genetic in origin, and the rest results from conditioning and learning. With desire and effort, learned responses can be modified, but antecedent factors are more difficult to correct. Yet, when it comes to changing ourselves, we may tend to feel that we must do the difficult quickly.

The path to perfection is eternal (*1158), as shown in Figure 10. The pursuit of the ideal--the striving to be Godlike--is a continuous effort before death and after. (*1134). Our Heavenly Father is gentle, patient, and supporting of all who sincerely try to mature and grow spiritually. Shouldn't we be so with ourselves, too? Peace in this life, survival in death, perfection in the next life, service in eternity--all these are achieved (in spirit) now when the creature personality consents--chooses--to subject the creature will to the Father's will. (*1221)

Finally, let us keep in mind that sincerity, quality of intent, and strength of desire are vital for survival and reaching perfection. (*1233) It is not so much what mind comprehends as what mind desires to comprehend. It is not so much what mind is like as what mind strives to be. What we are today is not so important as what we are becoming day by day and in eternity. (*1216) When man goes into partnership with God, great things may, and do, happen. (*1467) We worship God, first, because he is, then, because he is in us, and last, because we are in him. (*196)


Anthony, Catherine P. and Gary A. Thibodeaux. Anatomy and Physiology. St. Louis: Times Mirror/Mosby College Publishing, 1987.

Beck, Aaron T., M.D. Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. New York: New American Library, 1979. paper $6.95

Burns, David D., M.D. Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy. New York: New American Library, 1980. paper $4.95

Schkade, Lawrence L. and A. R. Potvin. "Brain Levels, EEG Waveforms and Cognitive Styles," Human Systems Management, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1981), pp. 329-331.

The Urantia Book. Chicago: Uversa Press, 1996.

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