In their words: Dr Mario Beauregard & Brain wars (Part 1)
To begin with, I want to show that the modern scientific worldview is based on a collection of philosophical assumptions that can be traced back at least to the 17th century (mainly to the fathers of classical physics such as Galileo, Descartes, and Newton). These assumptions include materialism, reductionism, and determinism.
Materialism is the idea that the universe is a cold, impersonal machine, devoid of goals, purpose or meaning; and that all things are composed of matter. This assumption implies that the brain is made up entirely of material particles and fields.
Reductionism is the notion that the nature of complex things can be understood by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things. According to this assumption, mind and consciousness can be reduced to electrical and chemical activity in the brain.
Determinism is the idea that the state of the physical world at any time is completely determined by its state at any earlier time. With respect to the relationship between mind and brain, proponents of determinism claim that humans are mechanical automata. In other words, they believe that our thoughts, feelings, and intentions do not make a difference in what we do.
There are several main approaches to the mind-brain problem from a materialist standpoint. First epiphenomenalism which is the view that the mind exists, like a rainbow shimmering over the falls. It is merely a product of brain-body processes. The mind sometimes facilitates for itself the illusion that it affects those processes, much as if the rainbow thought it affected the falls in some way.
Secondly eliminative materialism, which denies that mental functions and processes exist in their own right. This theory asserts that “consciousness” and “mind” are pre-scientific concepts that belong to an unsophisticated notion of how the brain works (sometimes called “folk psychology”). They can be reduced to whatever the nerve cells happen to be doing. “Consciousness” and “mind” as concepts will be eliminated by the progress of science.
And thirdly the psychophysical identity theory, which holds that the activity of the mind is identical to the activity of the brain.
These three theories have implications for human experience. For instance, if the mind is a delusion created by the brain, then human beings cannot have a transcendent experience that puts them in contact with a reality beyond themselves because there is no such reality. And beliefs or intentions cannot influence what is going on in the brain and the body.
EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE CHALLENGING MATERIALIST VIEWS
The Power of Belief to Cure or Kill
To start with, I want to discuss the placebo effect. This refers to any treatment —including drugs, surgery, psychotherapy and quack therapy— used for its ameliorative effect on a symptom or disease but that is actually ineffective for the condition being treated. The psychological and physiological responses elicited by placebos strongly suggest that expectations and beliefs about a treatment can have a major positive impact on what is happening in the brain and the body.
Consider the famous case of ‘Mr. Wright’, who was found to have cancer and was given only days to live. Hospitalized, he heard that scientists had discovered a horse serum – Krebiozen – that appeared to be effective against cancer. He begged to receive it. His doctor agreed and gave Mr. Wright an injection. A few days later, Mr. Wright was out of his ‘death bed’, joking with the nurses. He was discharged from the hospital. Two months later, Mr. Wright read a medical report that the horse serum was really a quack remedy. He suffered an immediate relapse. The doctor told Mr. Wright that those reports were inaccurate, and he injected him with a new super-refined double strength version of the drug (actually, water). Again, the cancer vanished. Mr. Wright was ‘the picture of health’ for another two months – until he read a definitive report stating that Krebiozen was worthless. He died two days later.
There are several recent brain imaging studies of the placebo effect in healthy individuals and patients suffering from various disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and major depression. The results of these studies demonstrate that beliefs and expectations can markedly affect activity in brain regions involved in perception, movement, pain, and emotion. In relation to this I should also mention the so-called nocebo effect, the evil twin of the placebo effect. Nocebo responses refer to negative physiological changes and symptoms that follow the administration of a chemically inactive substance that the recipient believes to be an active drug.
Brain Control …
To be continued tomorrow …