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Monday, January 07, 2008

The Spiritual Brain reviewed in Jesuit thinkmag America

I was a bit nervous when I heard that our Spiritual Brain had been reviewed in America. Mario Beauregard is a research scientist and I am a journalist. Our evidence is good, but a philosopher could probably tie me up for hours in mind games (though he might not fare as well with Mario).

However, John F.Kavanaugh, S.J., reviewed the book and actually had good things to say about it, for example,
The fact that most humans report religious, spiritual and mystical experiences has sent some materialists on a scavenger hunt for a "God-spot" in the brain, a "God-gene" hiding in some chromosome and even a "God helmet" that stirs up an electromagnetic field to give the brain a spiritual buzz. Beauregard's fMRI work shows that, while all human cognitive experience is accompanied by firings in the neural network, the experiences themselves are utterly unlocalizable.

The workings of the brain accompany spiritual experience but do not fully account for it. What is more, although human experience requires the brain as a necessary condition for our embodied personal acts of self-consciousness, mindfulness, freedom and love, the brain cannot adequately explain them. Beauregard examines cases of the paranormal, the placebo effect and therapeutic auto-suggestion, all under fMRI conditions, to show that the brain-driven content of our experience is different from our self-directed consciousness of the content. Most remarkable here is the report of a near-death-experience of someone clinically dead, with a flat EEG but nonetheless aware.

Kavanaugh, who teaches medical ethics at St. Louis University, Mo., is himself the author of Who Count As Persons? (Georgetown Univ. Press, 2002).

And more. I don't think this article is on line yet, but you can register to read the whole for free.

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