Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Non-materialist neuroscience watch: *New article* "Mind does really matter"

My lead author Mario Beauregard has an article coming out in Progress in Neurobiology which describes a number of studies in non-materialist neuroscience (Non-materialist neuroscience = the mind exists and uses the brain but is not the same thing as the brain).

It also sets out his hypothesis of the relationship between the mind and the brain, the psychoneural translation hypothesis. Neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can now show the ways in which people reorganize their brains by changing their minds. However, their ability to do this is in direct conflict with materialist theories of mind, according to which the mind either is simply the brain at work or is a side-effect of brain processes - or perhaps does not even exist. As Beauregard writes,
The results of the neuroimaging studies reviewed here call in question the psychophysical identity theory and epiphenomenalism. For the psychophysical identity theory, mental processes (including intentional ones) are identical with neural processes (Feigl, 1958). For epiphenomenalism, mental processes are causally inert epiphenomena (side-effects or by-products) of neural processes. These findings also challenge eliminative materialism (or eliminativism). According to this view, mental processes and functions (e.g., consciousness, intentions, desires, beliefs, self) can be reduced entirely to brain processes. These mental processes and functions are pre-scientific concepts that belong to unsophisticated ideas of how the brain works (sometimes called ‘‘folk psychology’’). Eliminative materialism further proposes that all common language or ‘‘folk psychology’’ descriptions of mental experience should be eliminated and replaced by descriptions using neuroscientific language (Churchland, 1981). For these materialist views (psychophysical identity theory, epiphenomenalism, eliminative materialism), physically describable brain mechanisms represent the core and final explanatory vehicle for every kind of psychologically described data. These views are extremely counter-intuitive since our most basic experience teaches us that our choice of perspective about how we apprehend our mental states makes a huge difference in how we respond to them (Schwartz et al., 2005).With regard to this issue, we agree with Glannon (2002) that the tendency of modern neuroscience and biological psychiatry toward neurobiological reductionism, i.e., the reduction of persons to their brains (a form of "neural anthropomorphism"), is ill-advised and socially hazardous. We must keep in mind that the whole human person, not merely a part of a brain, thinks, feels, or believes. Indeed, the human person cannot be reduced to neural processes and it is difficult to understand a whole person without understanding the sociocultural context in which the person lives.

Okay, if you are not a neuroscientist, you are probably better off reading The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul, which explains this and a whole lot more in really simple language - the kind of thing I understand better myself, no less.

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