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“The Spiritual Brain: a Neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul”
Posted: 12 January 2008 02:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Has any one read this book?  I am reading it now and it is a bit interesting.  The authors, Mario Beauregard & Denyse O’Leary discuss topics like the placebo effect and the power of the mind to change the brain in OCD and other similar conditions.  I find myself interested in the points he is bringing up that are unexplainable as of yet by a materialist world view.  But I also question the validity of some of the accounts he describes - such as near death experiences and other mystical type happenings.  Something the authors do not question.  Another question I find myself asking is this - does the fact that science can not explain something like the placebo effect, does that mean there definitely is a mind or consciousness that can exist outside the body?  Is it not possible that there is another area of the brain that is the ‘consciousness’ that can ‘believe’ in a cure and therefore account for the placebo effect?

Another example he gives is the fact that happiness releases adrenaline into the body.
One thing I appreciate about the book, is that these ideas are presented and at the same time, the authors make a case for the possiblity of there being a mind, but not necessarily a God or anything supernatural going on. 

One more claim that is made in the book is that telekenesis has already been proven in labs and there are people that can ‘guess’ better than chance at information not available to them in another way - using dice and 0’s/1’s and what not.
Has anyone heard of this any where else, or read the book as well and has comments?

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Posted: 12 January 2008 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Hello JFree,

There’s actually tons about all this, both on the site and in back issues of magazines like Skeptical Inquirer. If they are relying on the placebo effect, near death experiences (NDEs), telekinesis and ESP (guessing better than chance) to prove their points, they are regurgitating a lot of misinformation and pseudoscientific nonsense.

There is masses of information about all this stuff, and I don’t have time to track it all down (though I seriously suggest looking up past issues of SI; there is an incomplete list of them online HERE) but to start with, let’s look to Robert Carrol’s Skeptical Dictionary. On NDEs check HERE; on telekinesis check HERE; on ESP check HERE; on the placebo effect check HERE. You should also be sure to click on the links at the bottom of each article, as often times much of the information is in those links.

Just to note quickly, there is nothing remotely “immaterialist” about the placebo effect or the fact that happiness releases adrenaline into the body. The placebo effect, insofar as it occurs, is an effect brought about by beliefs, which are themselves brain events. Happiness is itself a brain event. The brain is a physical object and is part of the body.

So insofar as you’ve got their argument right, it’s a total nonstarter.

[ Edited: 12 January 2008 03:28 PM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 12 January 2008 10:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks a lot!  i kind of figured that somewhere there was a wealth of rebuttels against this stuff.  I also found a great review on Amazon pointing out some of the errors of what science there is in the book after I posted here.  I will check out these links.  Thanks again!

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Posted: 13 January 2008 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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J Free - 12 January 2008 10:40 PM

Thanks a lot!  i kind of figured that somewhere there was a wealth of rebuttels against this stuff.  I also found a great review on Amazon pointing out some of the errors of what science there is in the book after I posted here.  I will check out these links.  Thanks again!

Glad to be of help!

grin

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Posted: 13 January 2008 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I have a hard time believing that a bunch of chemical reactions in the brain denote a soul.  I think it is stretching it a bit because they are triggered by some sort of external stimilus- in this case the idea that a placebo, which they don’t know is a placebo of course, will cure them.  To me this is just a sign of a chemical reaction and nothing more.

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Posted: 13 January 2008 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Well I haven’t finished the book yet.  The last half is mostly about some nuns and their experiences and I haven’t gotten into that yet.  The part I just finished was a little more convincing or had some points I hadn’t thought of.  But it is so easy to twist things and then tell stories around them.  In this book and the Behe book I just read, there is a point where the scientific ‘facts’ stop and suddenly there’s this big jump to a conclusion of the supernatural or a soul.  It’s a dead giveaway for an ulterior motive IMO. 

But I read the placebo stuff from Skeptics Dictionary, a site I hadn’t been to before, and it is really well put there. 

One thing that puzzles me is really from my own experience, and that is that I really do have a better day when I decide to have a better day.  That is, I can choose my moods and the way things will go for me.  Or I think I can…  wink  So why is that that I feel that I am controlling my day and the mood it will have for me.  When I wake up and feel like I need to make a decision to be positive, I have more patience, feel less irritable and feel generally happier.  According to The Spiritual
Brain, that is my mind changing my brain chemistry.  According to me, it could be hormonal, it could be education where I’ve learned to make the best of things - who knows?  I really don’t change any outcomes of events - that’s not what I mean - it’s just that having a positive attitude going into something, I can stay happier regardless of circumstances - to an extent.  But in reality, I don’t get sick less or anything like that.  I just deal better with being sick. 

I am reminded of an interview that POI did recently and I can’t recall the name of it.  I’ll have to listen to that one again—where the guest talks about how humans can want to be different than they are.  Like before I quit smoking, I struggled for a while with it, wanting to quit, but not wanting to at the same time.  Understanding this dualism type behavior or thought patterns would probably contribute to understanding other ‘choices’ and moods. 

But it’s still a big mystery to me.  I quit smoking because in the end I wanted to be healthy more than I wanted to smoke.  But people close to me can’t seem to make that decision and some don’t even want to.  I can’t understand why one person can make a decision like this that another cannot.  I’m not a particularly disciplined or willfull person.  What accounts for these types of decision-making situations.

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Posted: 14 January 2008 05:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The title strikes me as bizarre. For me, the soul is a word we use to describe our most meaningful inner experiences. You know, what you hear in Ray Charles’ singing—- that’s why they call it soul music.

As far as making a case for “the existence of the soul”—- what argument is proposed?

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Posted: 14 January 2008 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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J Free - 13 January 2008 10:03 PM

But it’s still a big mystery to me.  I quit smoking because in the end I wanted to be healthy more than I wanted to smoke.  But people close to me can’t seem to make that decision and some don’t even want to.  I can’t understand why one person can make a decision like this that another cannot.  I’m not a particularly disciplined or willfull person.  What accounts for these types of decision-making situations.

The short answer is that we don’t yet know, entirely. But it’s probably something to do with brain chemistry. For example, some people are apparently immune to the addictive effects of nicotine; presumably they have some slight genetic difference that allows them to remain relatively unaffected. And also, presumably, there is a range of human responses to addictive chemicals: some people are so constructed to be very deeply effected, others in between, others not at all. What appears to us to be a difference of willpower may in fact simply be a difference of propensity to addiction.

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Posted: 14 January 2008 07:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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PLaClair - 14 January 2008 05:51 AM

For me, the soul is a word we use to describe our most meaningful inner experiences. You know, what you hear in Ray Charles’ singing—- that’s why they call it soul music.

I agree with you here.  To me the question is not whether the “soul” exists, but what is it’s nature?  Is it a natural consequence of the organization of the brain, or is it some kind of external entity capable of floating around on its own but which just happens to live inside my body for some bizarre reason.  Which of these alternatives seems more reasonable to you?

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Posted: 14 January 2008 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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advocatus - 14 January 2008 07:54 AM
PLaClair - 14 January 2008 05:51 AM

For me, the soul is a word we use to describe our most meaningful inner experiences. You know, what you hear in Ray Charles’ singing—- that’s why they call it soul music.

I agree with you here.  To me the question is not whether the “soul” exists, but what is it’s nature?  Is it a natural consequence of the organization of the brain, or is it some kind of external entity capable of floating around on its own but which just happens to live inside my body for some bizarre reason.  Which of these alternatives seems more reasonable to you?

Interesting way of putting it. Is experience an “it”? Are you saying anything more than that?

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Posted: 14 January 2008 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Not that I want to imply that everything is semantics, but whether the soul exists depends on what you mean by the word. I agree that it has many layers of meaning, and I always feel that good words should not be given up without a fight. I can find uses for “soul,” “spiritual.” etc without actually believing in supernatural entities. And while there is some risk of being misunderstood, there is also the chance of the predominant meaning evolving over time along with attitudes and beliefs, so I prefer not to imporverish my capacity for self-expression in an effort to avoid any taint of beliefs I don’t hold.

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Posted: 14 January 2008 09:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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In this case, the world ‘soul’ is meant as a ‘mind’ that lives on after death, is able to affect the physical world, and is not necessarily supernatural.  However, the book is also seemingly contradictory.  The mystical experiences the authors describe are not common and seem to happen only to those who believe, but don’t focus on it.  There is talk of meditation and trying to reach that consciousness that is at a different level than the one we normally experience.  This kind of thing.  It’s a pretty new book.  I’m probably missing a bunch of stuff when I’m describing it now.  I got an advanced reading copy from the local bookstore after ordering a bunch of books by Dawkins and also “The Reason Driven Life”.  The bookstore owner is Christian so I’m not sure if there were any ulterior motives.  But I do enjoy reading books on both sides to see what’s out there.

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Posted: 14 January 2008 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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dougsmith - 14 January 2008 06:06 AM

The short answer is that we don’t yet know, entirely. But it’s probably something to do with brain chemistry. For example, some people are apparently immune to the addictive effects of nicotine; presumably they have some slight genetic difference that allows them to remain relatively unaffected. And also, presumably, there is a range of human responses to addictive chemicals: some people are so constructed to be very deeply effected, others in between, others not at all. What appears to us to be a difference of willpower may in fact simply be a difference of propensity to addiction.

This is an interesting observation.  I have a fairly addictive personality which is why smoking affected my life more than it does my husbands for example.  He can have one a week or none a week or ten a week and it doesn’t change his moods or cravings.  I on the other hand can not smoke socially, and I have tried!  If I smoke at all, I’m buying packs and smoking every day and it affects my moods and how my patience I have with my kids etc. etc.  So I can see that I have much more motivation to quit than my husband since it hardly affects him other than what physical damage it is doing.

Interesting…

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Posted: 14 January 2008 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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As a child I didn’t know the word “spiritual.” Even though the word “spiritual” does exist in my language (Czech), one will never hear it anywhere outside of the church (just a guess, since I had never visited a mass in Czech.). I wonder if the fact that the word “spiritual” never formed a part of my vocabulary is the reason why I don’t feel the need to use it not only in Czech, but also in Spanish or English.

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Posted: 14 January 2008 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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mckenzievmd - 14 January 2008 09:46 AM

Not that I want to imply that everything is semantics, but whether the soul exists depends on what you mean by the word. I agree that it has many layers of meaning, and I always feel that good words should not be given up without a fight. I can find uses for “soul,” “spiritual.” etc without actually believing in supernatural entities. And while there is some risk of being misunderstood, there is also the chance of the predominant meaning evolving over time along with attitudes and beliefs, so I prefer not to imporverish my capacity for self-expression in an effort to avoid any taint of beliefs I don’t hold.

We always risk being misunderstood, even in silence. One opportunity is to assist in the evolution of these words so that non-supernatural meanings become more common.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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PLaClair - 14 January 2008 09:24 AM

Is experience an “it”? Are you saying anything more than that?

The “soul”, it, “a word we use to describe…”  Don’t look so closely at the trees you lose sight of the forest!  smile

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