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Thursday, November 27, 2008

New Scientist publishes non-materialist neuroscientists' letter

This is New Scientist's edit of the letter:

Non-materialist mind

by Mario Beauregard and Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Montreal, Canada, and Los Angeles, California, US

New Scientist, 29 November 2008, page 23.

Amanda Gefter's article on the "cultural war" over the brain significantly misrepresents non-materialist neuroscience (25 October, p 46) and does a disservice to your readers.

Most participants in the 11 September symposium "Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness" at the United Nations were medical doctors or neuroscientists who work with them. We do not question materialist models of the mind-brain complex merely for ideological or political reasons. We want to move beyond them because we have not found them adequate explanations of mind-brain interactions, nor do they point to useful treatment plans.

Your writer's attempt to smear scientists who are looking for new directions, while perhaps entertaining, is a poor substitute for thoughtful coverage of a growing area.

Indeed, the breezy explanation by Andy Clark that Gefter quotes: "There's nothing odd about minds changing brains if mental states are brain states: that's just brains changing brains", reveals a fundamental lack of knowledge of mind-brain interactions. In such interactions, the mind state often changes the brain state as a result of new information or a new choice of attention. Information and focus are not material entities.

Mario Beauregard


For the record, here is the letter that was sent to them:
Amanda Gefter’s Perspectives piece (New Scientist, October 22, 2008), “Creationists declare war over the brain,” is a disservice to your readers that significantly misrepresents non-materialist neuroscience. Only a few points are noted here:

First, human consciousness is acknowledged by everyone familiar with the field to be a hard problem in current science. Not surprisingly, new directions are welcomed at this point. You can be confident that the Nour Foundation, UN-DESA, and the Université de Montréal, which co-sponsored the recent symposium “Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness” at the UN (September 11, 2008) were not attempting to advance the agenda of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, as Gefter’s article implies.


Most panel participants were medical doctors or neuroscientists who work with medical doctors. We do not question materialist models of the mind-brain complex for merely ideological or political reasons. We want to move beyond them because we have not found that they provide adequate explanations of mind-brain interactions, nor do they point to useful treatment plans. Your writer’s attempt to smear scientists who are looking for new directions, while perhaps entertaining, is a poor substitute for thoughtful coverage of a growing area.

Indeed, Gefter’s breezy explanation, “There's nothing odd about minds changing brains if mental states are brain states: that’s just brains changing brains” reveals a fundamental lack of knowledge of mind-brain interactions. In such interactions, the mind state often changes the brain state as a result of new information or a new choice of attention. Information and focus are not material entities.

A popular science magazine should be eager to explore the critical implications of new findings in mind-brain interactions for medicine, rather than rehash materialist dogma and US “culture wars” politics.

A couple of points of information: Neither of us is a creationist or a Cartesian dualist. Mario Beauregard has no ties to the Discovery Institute, and the von Neumann interpretation of quantum physics (Henry Stapp’s preferred approach) is a standard one.


Jeffrey M. Schwartz

Mario Beauregard
(Just setting the record straight here. )

See also:

Selected moments from "Beyond the Mind-Body Problem Symposium - morning panel

Selected moments from "Beyond the Mind-Body Problem Symposium - afternoon panel

My response to the New Scientist bid to be the National Enquirer of pop science mags. (But, why?)

New Scientist - a philosophy prof responds

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