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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Do neurosurgeons believe the mind exists?

Do neurosurgeons (people who can carve up our brains, after all) believe that the mind really exists, and is not just the workings of the material brain?

I asked Dr. Michael Egnor, regarded by New York Magazine as one of America's best doctors:
Good question about materialism among neurosurgeons. I've done no official polling, but my strong suspicion is that materialism is very definitely a minority view among doctors in general, and neurosurgeons in particular. There's nothing like exposure to the real world, which doctors get a lot of, to dissuade one from materialism. Many of us have had patients with near-death or out of body experiences (I'm sure you've heard of Bob Spetzler's patient in Phoenix a few years back), and I've had many patients show clear awareness of conversations in their ICU rooms (elevated heart rate, etc) when they were in comas with simultaneous documented absence of EEG waves. Experienced ICU nurses know that families have to be careful with what they say in the room of a comatose patient, even when there is no evidence of brain function due to suppression with barbiturates.

Wilder Penfield certainly wasn't a materialist, and he is the neurosurgeon who studied the mind-body problem the most intensely in thousands of conscious patients undergoing brain surgery.

In my own experience, and I suspect the experience of many if not most of my colleagues, I see the brain as less and less the seat of the soul and more and more as an organ, like the heart or the kidney, which has a job to do. The brain's job is to mediate neurological function. The 'soul' isn't in the brain, just as 'Hamlet' isn't in a book. The soul has an existence distinct from the medium that expresses it. How easily we moderns forget the old truths.

Dr. Egnor has also said some kind things about The Spiritual Brain.

Incidentally, Dr. Egnor has recently come in for an astounding amount of abuse on account of his nonmaterialist stance. That abuse says far more about the perpetrators thereof than about him, and goes a very long way to discrediting the materialist cause that they support.

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