SuttaCentral

Cellular Memories


#1

Just taken this course and very much enjoyed it. One part that was touched upon but not expanded fully was the idea of cellular memories. I’m interested in particular in organ transplant and cellular memories, and what that means from a Buddhist ethical point of view. My first introduction to this was from a friend who had a liver transplant and the strange visions and memories that she had post transplant. She was quite convinced that there was a bit of another ‘person’ affecting the way that she was, and this caused much distress to her. I later found out that this is more common than we might imagine, although it is never discussed during pre-transplant therapy. Here’s a paper on it.

Does anyone have any thoughts or experience of this, and (although I believe that they did not have organ transplants in the time of the Buddha ;)) are there any passages from EBT where this idea is discussed?


#2

Hi Stu,

Interesting paper! I’ve heard of this before, and some of the stories are quite striking. I don’t see any reason why this should not be a real phenomenon.

As for the EBTs, I am not sure which passages might be relevant, but I would be surprised if there aren’t any that bear on this, at least in an indirect way - it often just a matter of being able to join the dots.

From a Buddhist point of view, I suppose there are at least two ways this phenomenon could be explained. The first , which you touch on, is that some sort of mental impression is left in the organ, a kind of stored memory. Our bodies and minds are intimately connected, and I think one could say that the physical body is just a manifestation of our mental world. It would not be surprising, then, if some sort memory was transferred.

The other possibility is that the mind of the donor is still somehow involved with the donated organ, through some sort of attachment perhaps. This might explain why the memories persist longer with some organs than others, since we are presumably more attached to our hearts than to our kidneys, for instance. To test this hypothesis it would be interesting to find out how long the memories persist. If they on average persist more than a few weeks then this idea may perhaps not be tenable.

And I do think you have a point that there are ethical implications here. If someone still feels they own their body, to what extent can we just take their organs? Imagine having an out-of-body experience and then seeing someone starting to cut your body open and removing the organs!


#3

Thank you Ajahn,

I think that we are maybe starting to see a germ of this idea in some of the current scientific understandings of memory, where many scientists in the field now suggest that memory is distributed throughout the brain, but they don’t yet hold that memories might be distributed around other tissue, although there are of course many nerve cells all over the (fathom long) body - see for example: https://www.ted.com/talks/heribert_watzke_the_brain_in_your_gut?language=en#t-231500

This is a fascinating idea. So the body of the person who had the transplant is ‘haunted’ by a ghost hanging around it’s old organs, rather like ghosts haunting their old houses. :slight_smile: . I guess that it could also be that certain types of tissue are better at retaining mental impressions than others, although that could well be the same thing said in a different way.

Another idea around this area that I’m wondering about is that of ‘phantom limbs’, and how this relates to the idea of mind made bodies?

Great stuff. Thank you.


#4

Interesting point. Are you suggesting that the limb may in fact still be there, even if it is invisible? It seems clear enough from the suttas that when you “draw” the mind out of the body, the body you then experience still has all the limbs and faculties of your physical body.


#5

Yes. Exactly that Bhante.

I think that both scientific consensus and Buddhism agree on the idea of a mind-made-body, although the scientists may not use that term. They would maybe talk about there being a ‘cortical map’ of the physical body, maybe ‘imprinted’ in the structure of the brain. And there are experiments which can knock this mental body out of kilter with the physical body. For example:

So the materialists / scientists would maybe suggest that this mental map is ‘stored’ in the brain, and there have been some interesting experiments with people who have had their limbs removed who still retain sensations in their phantom limbs. For example, stimulating an area on the body where the sensory nerves terminate in the brain, close to where the phantom limb nerves terminates, can triggers some relief. That is, if the patient has an itch in their phantom arm, it could be relieved by scratching their cheek (despite what Ajahn Chah says ;)), because the nerves of both arm and cheek terminate very close to each other in the brain. See cortical remapping

So, it would be interesting to know if people with biological deformities such as missing limbs, and past life recollections where they lost the limb, ever experienced phantom limb sensations? Because if the materialists are right then that area of the cortical map should never have been laid down. Maybe??


#6

:pray:

Dear Bhante and Stu,

One of my co-workers recently just hand dental implants on his two front teeth due to eroding bones in his upper jaw (the dental term used was “impacting”). He had to go through extensive dental surgery over 9 months period to get his jaw ready for the implants. And when his jaw finally recuperated after the bone and gum grafts and received his implants, he said that he always felt like the old teeth were there (phantom teeth?) while he was waiting for his body to readjust to the dental implants. Just wanted to share this little story.

Happy holidays!

with añjali and mettā,
russ

:pray:


#7

@stu
Thanks for this paper Stu. Fascinating.


#8

Hi Bhante Sujato and co.,

                                                   Though this a late entry to a past thread, here is an interesting You Tube clip that has some novel ideas in interpreting rebirth. Yes, some of it might certainly be considered far fetched but, nonetheless, it would find its place in this discussion. Not only an explanation for how reincarnation/rebirth fits in and fuels human evolution, but also a mechanistic description of how the process occurs. (For more info look into the work of Michael A. Persinger who has done 'scientific' research into related fields that delve into spirituality).

Up to anyone to find this plausible…or not.

Jacques


#9

The actual paper he published is available here:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251152439_The_Structure_and_Function_of_Near-Death_Experiences_An_Algorithmic_Reincarnation_Hypothesis

It’s still a long read for a single article, but then, the video is very long too…