Brain Wars Review

I just finished Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives.

materialism

Put concisely, I loved it. Mario Beauregard challenges the dominant materialistic view among scientists that mind = brain. He presents a number of phenomena that can’t be explained by materialism, such as placebos, neurofeedback, meditation, psi, hypnosis, and out of body/near death experiences. All of these are examples of ways that thoughts, beliefs, and emotions can influence what happens in our brains and bodies and affect our heath and well-being. In other words, our physical bodies don’t seem to be wholly determined by our physical brains.

“Mental activity is not the same as brain activity, and we are not “meat puppets,” totally controlled by our brains, our genes, and our environments. Indeed, our minds and our consciousness can significantly affect events occurring in the brain and body, and outside the body. We do have these immensely important capacities, and it is time for science to begin taking them seriously.”

For a while I’ve felt torn regarding the mind-brain relationship. If scientists didn’t believe that studying the brain would inform them about the mind and consciousness, why would they study it? But at the same time, people are drawn towards the idea that there is more to the mind than simply the physical brain, or else they would not practice religions geared towards life after death, when the mind transcends the physical. It’s always felt like a bit of an impasse.

Beauregard’s claim is that the mind and the physical world aren’t actually separated, but instead they just appear to be. They are distinct but complementary aspects of one reality.

brain-mind

In the conclusion, he talks about what the brain sciences can learn from Quantum Mechanics:

“The work of QM has effectively dematerialized the classical universe by showing that it is not made of minuscule billiard balls, as drawing of atoms and molecules would lead us to believe. QM has shown that atoms and subatomic particles are not really objects- they do not exist with certainty at definite spatial locations and definite times. Rather they show ‘tendencies to exist,’ forming a world of potentialities within the quantum domain.”

In the future, he argues, we won’t make progress in understanding the relationship between the brain and mind until scientists can shed their insistence on materialism, which causes them to “neglect the subjective dimension of human experience and downplay the importance of mind and consciousness.” When we have firm expectations about what we’ll find when approaching a research problem, it comes as no surprise that those expectations are met. If we want to understand the human mind as fully as possible, on the other hand, we have to be more open to different possibilities.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Brain Wars Review

  1. I’m always a bit iffy when philosophers of mind bring in Quantum Physics to argue against reductive/eliminative materialism. Maybe it’s just because I know little about neuroscience and even less about non-Newtonian physics, but I’m skeptical of generalizing large-scale mental phenomena based on the teeny tiny movements of subatomic particles. Regardless, if we take the enactivist hypothesis seriously—which I’m not sure if Beauregard does— and assert that what we call ‘mind’ emerges from body/world interaction we can avoid quantum physics all together. In the language of Chaos Theory (another form of physics I barely understand), maybe the mind is a sort of ‘strange attractor’ that is dependent on, but not easily decomposable into, infinitesimal neural, physiological, and ecological sub-systems. We may dodge the reductivism bullet without falling into dualism or glib references to string theory.

  2. I think that taking (what I understand to be) the key themes of Quantum Physics into account, we can at least take away a good comparison for understanding the mind-brain relationship. Ditto for Chaos Theory- it seems like the main idea is along the same lines, but sort of just comes down to what particular language we’re using to describe the relationship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s