Friday, January 11, 2008

Spiritual Brain authors in the media: Mario Beauregard on Maureen Caudill's show

Here's Mario's interview with Maureen Caudill at Music of Your Mind, January 10, 2008,
Do religious experiences come from God, or are they merely the random firing of neurons in the brain? Drawing on his research with Carmelite nuns, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard shows that genuine, life-changing spiritual events can be documented. He offers compelling evidence that religious experiences have a nonmaterial origin, making a convincing case that it is God who creates our spiritual experiences, not the brain. In his book The Spiritual Brain, Beauregard and co-author Denyse O'Leary explore recent attempts to locate a "God gene" or explain away mystic experiences as due to epilepsy or other pathologies. Beauregard claims such efforts are misguided and narrow-minded, resulting from a refusal to consider anything except a monistic materialist world-view rather than deriving from valid scientific thought. Beauregard explores the latest neurological research on mystic experiences and gets to their real source. You won’t want to miss this fascinating discussion!

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Intriguing study of consensus: How much does what other people think matter to YOU?

Read this if you must vote any time soon:
In a new paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Watts and Dodds debunk the idea that influential people drive races one way or the other. The decisive factor, they show in a series of mathematical models, is not the presence of influential people but people who are easily influenced. Random, insignificant events are vastly magnified by networks of such malleable people influencing one another, and this tilts the race one way or another. Blind chance plays a big role.

I disagree with the authors of the study in one respect: The habits built up over a lifetime - in terms of whose judgment we respect - are not merely a matter of blind chance. Many, many choices go into creating such habits as well.

It is not, for example, a matter of blind chance that I do not own a china bust of Elvis Presley (and probably don't know anyone who does), but have somehow managed to acquire both an icon of Christos Pantokrator and a fossil fish.

Also: Here's a new film on religion and politics in the United States. I haven't seen it but the trailer looks interesting.


What I say to people who think the human mind is a user illusion ...;

Here's a kind review of The Spiritual Brain by Canada's Donna Dawson, novelist and blogger:
I must say that I have never read a scientific book that has striven so much to remain close to evidence-based truth as this one has. Too often the scientist’s personal view is splashed liberally throughout the pages—something not done here for the most part. Doctor Beauregard and Ms. O’Leary worked hard to keep opinion out of the documentation as much as possible in the first nine chapters. It is only chapter ten where personal belief is brought into the picture. I was stunned by the overwhelming amount of data served up in a clinical, non-threatening style so as to cut through any previous unscientific agenda in order to present clear truth.

Donna is right about that. We strove very hard to present a clearly written and interesting account of the evidence for the spiritual nature of human beings. While researching the various topics, I found myself slogging through many books whose authors had somehow convinced themselves that the human mind doesn't really exist, and were not about to be persuaded by evidence. Here are the questions I want to ask them (but usually can't):

He: The human mind is simply the functions of the brain. It is merely a user illusion.

Me: Who's the user?

He: What? Look, there ISN'T a user. You're clearly not well educated so ...

Me: If there isn't a user, it's not a user illusion.

He: Okay, it's just an illusion plain and simple then. Modern science has discovered ...

Me: Modern science hasn't discovered anything that scientists didn't need their minds for. So you're saying that all those discoveries are just illusions?

He: No! Quit misquoting me! You people do that all the time. I'm saying that materialism is TRUE. If you don't believe it, you have a one way ticket to the Dark Ages.

Me: Funny thing, that religious weirdo who handed me a bunch of hellfire tracts in the shopping plaza told me something very similar: If I don't believe it, I have a one way ticket to hell. And he doesn't think I should use my mind either, actually. Do you two by any chance work together? ...

If my mind serves no other function in my life, it gets me out of the way of those types.


Coffee break! Coffee break! Monkeys and fairness

Columnist Lori Borgman takes a run at capuchin monkeys' theories of fairness:
What I'm waiting for is the day when monkeys do research on humans. "Look at that, Cheeta, they're fighting over some piece of paper called a paycheck. Dude 2 says Dude 3 got a bigger one. Wow! Dude 2 is turning red and his eyes are bulging! Look at Dude 3 scream. What apes!"

And then the researcher monkeys laugh their little heads off, throw cucumber slices at the humans and eat more grapes.

Attention all human research subjects: Repeat fifty times, "Cucumbers are GOOD! Cucumbers are BETTER than grapes!!"

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Service note

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.