Neuroscience and the New View of Mind

Neuroscience and the New View of Mind

(excerpts from JOHN WHITE, The Meeting of Science and Spirit, 1979)

The relation between mind and brain is a centuries-old debate, never settled to the satisfaction of everyone. Philosophers and theologians have maintained, by and large, that mind and brain are separate entities (psyche and soma) which interact but nevertheless belong to distinctly different domains of existence, the physical and the metaphysical. However, scientists – including psychologists – have for the most part taken an opposed view, arguing that mind is a byproduct or epiphenomenon of the brain and nervous system which ceases to exist when the brain stops functioning. The mind, they said, is wholly explainable in terms of physics and chemistry of matter. The psyche is not necessary for psychology.

… Neurophysicist Sir John Eccles, whose work on the nervous system earned him a Nobel prize for medicine in 1963, rejects the soulless view of Man, declaring that consciousness cannot be explained through science.  (The Brain and the Unity of Conscious Experience 1961). (Later on) he said in an interview: “The genetic code and natural selection explains quite a lot. But not how I came to exist. It doesn’t explain even the origin of consciousness. If you look at the most modern texts on evolution you find nothing about mind and consciousness. They assume it just comes automatically with the development of the brain. But that’s not the answer.” “If I say that the uniqueness of the human self is not derived from the genetic code, not derived by experience, then what is it derived from? My answer is this: from a divine creation. Each of us is a divine creation.” Summing up in his 1985 book, The Wonder of Being Human, that each of us has a “divinely created psyche” which must be considered central to all questions of immortality and self-identity. Remarking on the book, he said that he believes in both a material world and a mental-spiritual world.

Eccles also says he has discovered the precise location in the brain which interacts with it: the supplementary motor area. First there is motive, then intention, then action. Motive and intention are mental, nonmaterial; they are impressed on to the brain, which causes neural action leading to behavior: “Mind ‘scans’ and ‘probes’ and ‘gently influences’ the brain in a ‘selective and unifying manner’ with physical and metaphysical implications.”

One such implication is free will: “I want to insist that we do have this moral responsibility stemming from free-will, from the ability of the mind to work on the brain.”  

Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, famed for his discovery of evoked memories and new mental experiences through electrical stimulation of the brain, has in his The Mystery of the Mind, written after four decades of brain research, stated the mind will always be quite impossible to explain on the basis of electrochemical action in the brain and nervous system: “…the mind is peculiar,” Penfield wrote. “It has energy. The form of that energy is different from that of neuronal potentials (electrochemical activity) that travel the axone (nerve) pathways. I am forced to choose the proposition that our being is to be explained on the basis of two fundamental elements.”

Those elements are mind and matter. A few days before his death the following year, Penfield said in an interview, “The mind is independent of the brain… The brain is a computer…But it is programmed by something that is outside itself, the mind.”

Dr Roger W Sperry of the California Institute of Technology is another top-ranked neuroscientist whose work suggests a new view of mind. Sperry was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981 for his split-brain studies, which led to the discovery of hemispheric functioning and dominance. He showed that neurological activities accompanying mental processes are assigned either primarily to the brain’s left or right hemisphere. Thus a person whose corpus callosum joining the hemispheres has been severed can, for example, visually recognize an object (a right-hemisphere function) but cannot say the word for it (a left-hemisphere function).

… Sperry states that mind has causal power in its own right. It emerges, he says, via hierarchically organized physical systems of brain components, yet it nevertheless somehow supersedes activity of the brain and nervous system. Although Sperry does not claim to understand how the mind emerges from the body and then transcends it to attain primary status, he says it is nevertheless “the crowning achievement of evolution.” He points out in Science and Moral Priority that the power of the whole (in this case, the mind) is greater than the sum of its parts (brain mechanisms and components) just as water is an emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen.

Thus the research of these authoritative brain scientists is undermining the chemical-neurological model of mind which denies the reality of a nonmaterial realm. This “new” view of mind offers experimental evidence pointing to a metaphysical domain which interacts with the physical and works into brain processes, yet nevertheless retains its own character as psyche, soul, mind.

The implications are vast. Briefly stated:  Mind  which  can  function   independent  of  brain  processes  provides  a  scientific  rationale  for life after death. At the very least, the research restores the psyche to psychology and provides a rational basis for religious faith.

It also underscore the humor in the joke: “The materialistic view of Man in mindless.”

***

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