[Nota Bene: I hope (time permitting and God willing) to do a series of entries for this blog on the subject of the plausibility of Christian doctrine in light of “natural revelation” (i.e. what can be inferred from observing creation). This would be the first installment of that series.]
Three points worthy of note:
(A) Christians believe that Jesus is “God” (John 1:1, John 20:28, 2 Peter 1:1).
(B) The Bible states that Jesus slept while on earth (Mark 4:38, Matthew 8:24).
(C) The Bible gives the impression that God does not sleep (Psalm 121:3-4), and this would be the assumption of most theists.
Immediately, the above three propositions seem to constitute a contradiction. It is not the intention of this blog entry to deny any of those three points, which thus begs the question: can they be reconciled? The reader is invited to consider some subsequent points:
(D) The Christian understanding of the Bible is that Christ acquired a human form (Daniel 7:13, John 1:14, Philippians 2:7-8, 1 Timothy 3:16).
(E) A statement attributed to Christ by the Bible can be understood as alluding to how, when taking on a human body, secondary ranges of consciousness can come with that.
Elucidation: Pope Agatho, in a letter submitted at the Third Council of Constantinople, argued that Matthew 26:41 contained an allusion to Dyotheletism (the doctrine that Christ possessed two wills). At the very least, one can say that, in Scripture itself, one finds Christ alluding to how, with the possession of human flesh, can come the possession of a secondary semblance of will. One could propose, further, that a will is intimately tied in with a range of consciousness, or a mental state. Therefore, if Christ proposed a model where one semblance of will was anchored to an embodied person’s immaterial aspect and another semblance of will was anchored to that person’s material aspect, He was indirectly alluding to multiple ranges of consciousness (or tiers where mental states occur).
(F) Scientific literature on neurobiology notes the possibility of an individual having multiple ranges of consciousness (or tiers where mental states occur).
Elucidation: one need only to turn to the copious amounts of writing on the subject of people who have undergone commissurotomies, in which their corpus callosum has been severed. A number of studies have demonstrated that such persons experience a sort of “split brain” phenomenon, where each hemisphere functions as a distinct tier for thought and mentation. Consider a couple excerpts to show that such is also possible in animals:
“[T]hese ‘split-brain’ studies, conducted mainly with cats and monkeys, showed that the neocortical commissures are necessary for the interhemispheric transfer of learning and memory and also for the interhemispheric integration of many sensory and motor functions that involved the left and right hands or paws, and the left and right halves of the visual field.”
“R. E. Myers and R. W. Sperry introduced a technique for dealing with the two hemispheres separately. They sectioned the optic chiasma of cats, so that each eye sent direct information (information about the opposite half of the visual field) only to one side of the brain. It was then possible to train the cats in simple tasks using one eye, and to see what happened when one made them use the other eye instead. In cats whose callosum was intact, there was very good transfer of learning. But in some cats, they severed the corpus callosum as well as the optic chiasma; and in these cases nothing was transmitted from one side to the other. In fact the two severed sides could be taught conflicting discriminations simultaneously, by giving the two eyes opposite stimuli during a single course of reinforcement. Nevertheless this capacity for independent function did not result in serious deficits of behavior. Unless inputs to the two hemispheres were artificially segregated, the animal seemed normal; (though if a split-brain monkey gets hold of a peanut with both hands, the result is sometimes a tug of war.)”
(G) Scientific literature on somnology has noted the possibility of organisms with multiple ranges of consciousness to have such aspects in asymmetrical sleep arrangements, where one such aspect experiences sleep while the other remains awake.
Elucidation: consider the following:
“The two main families of pinnipeds, Otariidae (sea lions and fur seals) and Phocidae (true seals), have evolved different solutions to the problem of sleeping and breathing in an aquatic environment. As in cetaceans, Otariidae seals utilize interhemispheric asymmetries in SWS and, to a lesser extent, USWS to maintain surfacing to breathing during sleep. For example, fur seals sleep floating on their side while the flipper connected to the awake (or more desynchronized) hemisphere paddles to keep the nostrils above the surface. In addition to facilitating breathing, the interhemispheric asymmetry in SWS also may allow fur seals to visually monitor their surroundings since, as in cetaceans, the eye contralateral to the awake hemisphere remains open.”
“Another surprise is that one half of the dolphin brain may be asleep while the other half is awake! While both sides of dolphin brains may simultaneously show stage 2-like sleep (with the animal surfacing to breathe without awakening), such a situation has never been obserbed in SWS. That is, if one side of the brain is in SWS the other side is awake by EEG criteria. Such unihemispheric sleep can last for over 2 hours at a time. The hemispheres alternate sleeping in this way, with one hemisphere sleeping for about an hour, followed by wakefulness in both hemispheres, then the other hemisphere sleeping for an hour.”
“Unihemispheric sleep (only one side of the brain asleep at a time) appears to be widespread in birds. One hemisphere can be unilaterally deprived of sleep by placing a patch over 1 eye and maintaining 24 hours of light to the other.”
Conclusion: there is nothing implausible about a model where Christ is a divine person who took on a secondary range of consciousness when He acquired a human form, and that secondary range of human consciousness experiencing sleep while the primary divine range remains fully alert. If, in God’s creation, we find individuals with multiple ranges of consciousness, and instances where one such aspect can experience sleep while another remains awake, it should therefore be considered likewise possible for a divine Person to acquire a secondary range of consciousness (tied in with a human form), and for a similar sort of asymmetrical sleep arrangement to be established between the two ranges. Ergo, there need not be any contradiction between points (A), (B) and (C), listed at the start of this blog entry.
(1) Robert F. Lay, Readings in Historical Theology: Primary Sources of the Christian Faith, (Kregel, 2009), p. 148.
(2) R.W. Sperry, M.S. Gazzaniga, and J.E. Bogen, “Interhemispheric Relationships: The Neocortical Commissures; Syndromes of Hemisphere Disconnection,” in P.J. Vinken and G.W. Bruyn (eds.), Handbook of Clinical Neurology, (North-Holland, 1969), vol. 4, p. 273.
(3) Thomas Nagel, “Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness,” Synthese, vol. 22 (1971), p. 399; this text can also be found reproduced in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 150-151.
(4) Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong, Michael Sateia, and Mary A. Carskadon (eds.), Sleep Medicine, (Hanley & Belfus, 2002), p. 10.
(5) William H. Moorcrof, Sleep, Dreaming & Sleep Disorders: An Introduction, (University PRess of America, 1993), pp. 160-161.
(6) Moorcroft, opere citato, p. 163.
(7) That is not to say this is necessarily the case with Christ. The point of this blog entry is not to claim insight into the precise mechanics of the Incarnation; rather the point is only to point to an analogy in creation to see one way in which such can be possible.