Friday, May 30, 2008

Commentator Dinesh D'Souza on The Spiritual Brain: Including stuff he didn't know

Commentator Dinesh D'Souza blogged on The Spiritual Brain recently:
We find the materialist view ably expressed in Francis Crick's The Astonishing Hypothesis. What Crick finds astonishing is that our thoughts, emotions and feelings consist entirely in the physiological activity in the circuitry of the brain. Daniel Dennett argues that "mind" is simply a term for what the brain does. And how do we know that the brain and the mind are essentially the same? The best evidence is that when the brain is damaged, the injury affects the mind. Patients whose brains atrophy due to stroke, for instance, lose their ability to distinguish colors or to empathize with others.

But in his book The Spiritual Brain, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard shows why the Crick-Dennett position is based on a fallacy. Yes, the brain is the necessary locus or venue for the mind to operate. It does not follow that the two are the same. Beauregard gives a telling analogy. "Olympic swimming events require an Olympic class swimming pool. But the pool does not create the Olympic events; it makes them feasible at a given location." Far from being identical to the mind, Beauregard argues that the brain "is an organ suitable for connecting the mind to the rest of the universe."

D'Souza is correct in saying that Mario and I defend the non-materialist position regarding the mind.

He mentions in the review that he had been unaware of the existence of the nocebo effect:
Beauregard also writes about something I didn't know much about: the nocebo effect. "The nocebo effect is the harmful health effect created by a sick person's belief and expectation that a powerful source of harm has been contacted or administered." So if patients are strongly convinced that a particular pill will give them nausea, they frequently become nauseous, even when the pill they have taken is not the one they expected but only a sugar pill.

Yes, and that's why the doctor tells us that a given treatment ""will only hurt a little bit." Naturally, she hopes that is true, but telling us to expect a lot of pain is a sure way to produce more of it (a nocebo effect).

Here are some Hack posts on D'Souza:

"Atheist Dawkins blasted in Skeptical magazine"

"Religion profs who don't know much religion?"

"Alister McGrath on Richard Dawkins: Athiesm is simple-minded narcissism"

"Secularism: Early post-mortem results"

Here are some Hack stories on the nocebo effect:

"Does behaviorism work?"

"Prayer studies: From one-way skepticism, deliver us"

"Faith as one of the healing arts"

"If it hurts you more than it hurts someone else, are you just a sissy?"

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