Investigating the Embodied Mind
Birth psychology to the embodied mind, genetics, and cellular biology examined.
Posted August 12, 2021 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
As a thirteen-year-old boy, I read Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams in original German while in Vienna. I was totally fascinated by how Freud’s slow, methodical questioning eventually led to the discovery of deeply hidden unconscious conflicts in the lives of his patients. Then and there, I resolved to become a psychiatrist.
Years later, when I had become a psychiatrist, I continued to be fascinated by dreams and the unconscious. One day, while working with a young man on his dream, he suddenly started to cry like a little baby without any input from me. He cried for close to 10 minutes and then stopped on his own. What just happened, I asked him. He told me that he found himself in a crib in his mind and that he was crying for his mother.
Then, he recalled that he had actually seen photos of himself as an infant, and some of them pictured him lying in a blue crib, whereas the crib he had just experienced was definitely white. He wondered about the discrepancy. I suggested that he ask his mother to resolve this question.
The next week he returned for his regular appointment and told me that according to his mother when he was born, his parents lacked money for a new crib but could borrow one from a neighbor. The borrowed crib was white. A few months later, they were able to buy a new crib for him, and that crib was blue. That is the one all his photos were of.
I felt intrigued and mystified by this experience throughout my studies. I was taught that children remember nothing before the age of two. And yet, as I continued to practice, I repeatedly encountered patients who would tell me about events in their lives reaching far back in time to infancy, birth, and even womb life.
A few of these memories may have originated from overheard conversations by family members or gleaned from photo albums or videos. On the other hand, a considerable number would not have been easily available and were corroborated by evidence supplied by parents, hospital reports, and other documentation.
I wondered how to explain these memories scientifically. It was then that after much study, research, and personal contacts with colleagues in obstetrics, psychology, psychiatry, and other sciences, I wrote The Secret Life of the Unborn Child.
At the time, almost 40 years ago now, I had much solid scientific evidence to back up the central idea, namely, that an unborn child is a sensing, feeling, conscious, and remembering being, at least three months before birth. However, I had little or no scientific evidence to support cognition of any kind extending back further in time.
Of course, given the rapid development and change in the biomedical sciences these past decades, forty years is practically an eon ago. Much of what is now known in cell biology, genetics, and, more importantly, epigenetics not only confirms my claims in The Secret Life of the Unborn Child but enables me to put forward the bold new concepts in the Embodied Mind.
What set me on this path towards the Embodied Mind was an article I read six years ago reprinted from Reuters Science News entitled, Tiny Brain No Obstacle to French Civil Servant. It seems that in July 2007, a 44-year-old French man went to a hospital complaining of mild weakness in his left leg. When doctors learned that the man had a spinal shunt removed when he was 14, they performed numerous head scans.
They discovered a huge fluid-filled chamber occupying most of the space in his skull, leaving little more than a thin sheet of actual brain tissue. It was a case of hydrocephalus, literally–water on the brain. Dr. Lionel Feuillet of Hôpital de la Timone in Marseille was quoted as saying, “The images were most unusual . . . the brain was virtually absent.” The patient was a married father of two children and worked as a civil servant, apparently leading a normal life, despite having a cranium filled with spinal fluid and very little brain tissue.
To my surprise, I found in the medical literature an astonishing number of documented cases of adults who, as children, had parts of their brain removed to heal their persistent epilepsy. Following hemispherectomy, most children showed an improvement in their intellectual capacity and sociability and apparent retention of memory, personality, and sense of humor. Similarly, adults who have had hemispherectomies enjoyed excellent long-term seizure control and increased postoperative employability.
If people who lack a large part of their brain can function normally, or even relatively normal, then there must exist, I thought, some kind of a backup system that can kick in when the primary system crashes. I devoted the next six years studying the medical and scientific literature, searching for clues to this puzzle.
While many scientists have contributed greatly in advancing science in their own areas of expertise, be that genetics or cellular biology, I have synthesized empirically supported research and hypotheses from diverse fields of investigation, connected the dots, and in the process arrived at significant new insights about the brain and the brain-mind relationship.
Feuillet, L; Dufour, H; Pelletier, J ( 2007). "Brain of a white-collar worker."Lancet 370 (9583): 262.
Lewin R. (1980). Is your brain really necessary? Science 210(4475), 1232–1234 10.1126/science.6107993 and Lorber J. (1978). Is Your Brain Really Necessary. Arch Dis Child; Vol. 53, No 10, pp. 834-835
McClelland III, S., & Maxwell, R. E. (2007). Hemispherectomy for intractable epilepsy in adults: the first reported series. Annals of neurology, 61(4), 372-376.
Villemure, J. G., & Rasmussen, T. H. (1993). Functional hemispherectomy in children. Neuropediatrics, 24(01), 53-55; Battaglia, D., Veggiotti, P