Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Non-materialist neuroscience book gets sympathetic review in Publishers' Weekly

I've just seen the Publisher's Weekly review of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard's and my book, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul:

Following C. S. Lewis’s dictum that “to ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see,” neuroscientist Beauregard and journalist O’Leary mount a sweeping critique of a trend in “the pop science media” to explain away religious experience as a brain artifact, pathology, or evolutionary quirk. While sympathizing with the attraction such “neurotheology” holds, the authors warn against the temptation to force the complex varieties of human spirituality into simplistic categories that they argue are conceptually crude, culturally biased, and often empirically untested. In recently published research using Carmelite nuns as subjects, Beauregard’s group at the University of Montreal found specific areas of brain activation associated with contemplative prayer. But these patterns are quite distinct from those associated with hallucinations, autosuggestion, or states of intense emotional arousal, resembling instead how the brain processes “real” experiences. Insisting that “we have never entertained the idea of proving the existence of God,” the authors concede that “the results of our work are assumed to be a strike either for or against God” and that “on the whole, we [don’t] mind.” Never shrinking from controversy, and sometimes deliberately provoking it, this book serves as a lively introduction to a field where neuroscience, philosophy, and secular/spiritual cultural wars are unavoidably intermingled. (Sept.)

It was great that the reviewer homed in on some of what Mario and I are trying to do - expose the sheer shoddiness of so much materialist thinking in neuroscience in the area of spirituality.

Naturally, I wish more had been said about the growing body of non-materialist neuroscience - and how and why it works - which we outline in the book in considerable detail. Mario, after all, is recognized as a pioneer in this area. But hey, this is a 200-word review, and we are off to a good start if a non-materialist perspective can get serious, non-hostile attention for a change.

A"lively" introduction, the reviewer says. Yes indeed. I swore I'd die laughing when I heard some of the materialist theories of spirituality that have actually been taken seriously in recent years. Shortly after I turned in the manuscript, I wrote, regarding the materialist sludge:
You think it's all nonsense, do you? Or do you worry in your heart of hearts that one or another of these concoctions might be true? Well, I spent a year examining all of them in detail (or anyway, as many as we could spot flying above the radar). It was the hardest year of my life, considering the piles of stuff I had to get through—dating from 1902 through 2006—and discovered that … it is indeed all nonsense.
I came away astonished by the gullibility of the popular science media in this area. There were times I howled with laughter. The only explanation for the tendency to offer credibility to any "we've found God in the genes/brain" announcement, however poorly supported, is reflexive materialism.

Materialists make for great comedy, actually, all the more so because they are deadly serious - and never more so than when they are fronting complete nonsense.

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