Monday, October 22, 2007

Great review of The Spiritual Brain in Quill and Quire

The November edition of Canadian litmag Quill and Quire has a wonderful review of The Spiritual Brain by James Grainger:
Read through the Ideas or Books section of any weekend paper these days and an unquestioned orthodoxy quickly asserts itself from behind the veneer of open- minded enquiry. That orthodoxy is the doctrine of scientific materialism, the belief that the great questions of human existence that have troubled us for millennia have been, or are about to be, answered by science. Why we love, why we hate, why we believe in God: scientists have proven that these seemingly complex yearnings are merely by-products of evolution, genetic coding, and brain chemistry. Case closed.

Questioning this orthodoxy will likely get you laughed out of the smart cocktail set, so one can only imagine the professional and personal risks that Mario Beauregard, a neuroscientist at the Université de Montreal, is running by publishing a book that claims not only that there is scientific evidence for the existence of God and the soul, but that the tenets of scientific materialism are based on bad science and wild speculation. Beauregard is too good a scientist to claim that he can prove, once and for all, that human beings possess a soul that exists both inside and apart from the material world. The same goes for the existence of God, whether conceived of as the paternalistic deity of monotheistic religion or the more abstract “ground of all being” of Buddhism.

It gets better. I will post the link to the rest later, when available. Reviewer James Grainger loves our book, and best of all he loves it for the same reasons as we wrote it: The things we all need to know about our real selves.

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Atheist indoctrination requires discrediting free will?

Dinesh D’Souza comments on the recent spate of atheist indoctrination projects:
One way in which science can undermine the plausibility of religion, according to biologist E.O. Wilson, is by showing that the mind itself is the product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion. “If religion…can be systematically analyzed and explained as a product of the brain’s evolution, its power as an external source of morality will be gone forever.”

Well then, as Mario Beauregard an I demonstrate in The Spiritual Brain, their project is a non-starter. And no wonder they sound ever more shrill.

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Free won’t - one of the keys to free will?

A recent neuroscience study showed that the aras of the brain involved with self-control and taking action are separate:
The area of the brain responsible for self-control -- where the decision not to do something occurs after thinking about doing it -- is separate from the area associated with taking action, scientists say in The Journal of Neuroscience.

"The results illuminate a very important aspect of the brain's control of behavior, the ability to hold off doing something after you've developed the intention to do it -- one might call it 'free won't' as opposed to free will," says Martha Farah, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania.

One might indeed. Free won’t has saved many from ruin.
"The capacity to withhold an action that we have prepared but reconsidered is an important distinction between intelligent and impulsive behavior," says Brass, "and also between humans and other animals."

And between prosperity and disaster.

(Hat tip Dr. Jeff Schwartz)

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Mindfulness meditation catches on in the workplace: Beaded hippies nowhere in sight

In Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Patrick White offers a look at the use of mindfulness meditation by executives, to get control of job stress:
cities across Canada, mindfulness classes are overbooked with stressed professionals searching for a path to increased focus and decreased stress.

The trend has caught the interest of academics. Researchers have found that prolonged mindfulness meditation eases stress, aggressive behaviour, cardiovascular problems, pain and depression.

About time they noticed. Meditation is way better for you than another cup of ruddy awful coffee.
In one study, neurologists at Massachusetts General Hospital found that meditation actually alters the construction of the brain. Comparing the brains scans of meditators with a control group, they found thickened cortical walls surrounding the regions of the brain responsible for attention and sensory processing.

Last year, University of Toronto scientist Tony Toneatto found that nursing students who were able to maintain a state of mindfulness had fewer symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Excellent article, despite the continual need to stress that the beaded hippies are nowhere in sight. (Can’t remember when I last saw one, anyway. )

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