Evolving news on the science, writing and thinking about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

Brainless materialism

Apologies for the long gap between posts, but I am still working on a new book that I will be publishing later this year. Anyway, this article really caught my attention:

Science and the Soul

“But I was wrong. Katie made me face my misunderstanding. She was a whole person. The child in my office was not mapped in any meaningful way to the scan of her brain or the diagram in my neuroanatomy textbook. The roadmap got it wrong.”

This a quote in which the neuroscientist discusses the relationship between the brain and the soul, or self. He claims that the brain is not the source of the mind or the soul, and cites findings from interesting experiments performed over the years that support this thesis. He concludes the following:

“There is a part of Katie’s mind that is not her brain. She is more than that. She can reason and she can choose. There is a part of her that is immaterial – the part that Sperry couldn’t split, that Penfield couldn’t reach, and that Libet couldn’t find with his electrodes. There is a part of Katie that didn’t show up on those CAT scans when she was born.

Katie, like you and me, has a soul.”

This is of course central to the whole understanding of what is going on with an NDE. Just as it should not be possible for a child to have a full range of mental skills when she has been born with a fraction of a functioning brain, so too should it not be possible to experience consciousness when the brain is technically dead, or at the very least “unalive”. Both of these phenomenon are incompatible with a materialistic understanding of human consciousness, and point to the soul being a separate entity, entirely independent of the brain for its existence.

The issue in this type of case where a significant part of the brain is missing or not working properly, is that if the mind is entirely a product of the physical functioning of the brain, then any significant reduction in brain capacity should correspondingly reduce the mind’s capacity. Classically speaking, various parts of the brain have been shown to be responsible for various cognitive functions through brain imaging experiments, and yet when those parts are damaged or destroyed, or not present in the first place, then it seems that other parts sometimes pick up the slack. This completely negates the idea that the mind is a mechanical product of the brain since the relationship between the brain and the mind must therefore be somewhat abstract. This points to the metaphysical nature of the soul/mind/conscious.

When you look at the brain as just being a host organ for the mind, then the observations from the ER and the neurology journals start to make sense. If the mind, or soul, is a whole independent entity, it would be able to occupy and communicate with the brain, even if the brain is reduced in its capacity. The soul is not reliant on the brain for its existence. This is of course the conclusion from NDEs, where the brain is “unalive”, to be technically correct, and yet the soul/mind/conscious persists. These two findings which have been replicated numerous times are mutually supportive of the understanding that the soul is not a product of brain activity.


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16 thoughts on “Brainless materialism

  1. I often think when we tackle the question of the mind I feel that by and large one it seems that has a choice of two outlooks namely that of materialism or dualism, whereas one has a choice of many and many variations of these also. Maybe some metaphysical philosophy learning’s could enable one to look beyond the two beat known ones and perhaps see the brain and mind in a less polarised position.


    • Please elaborate Z. I am very black white in my thinking, so nearly have an aneurism trying to conceive of something other than the two choices of materialism and dualism. Be interested in other explanations.


      • David on said:

        I will at some point but there are lots of alternatives but I have to go back to my philosophy of mind….there are various forms of idealism. Also my Philopsophy of Science is anti realist. Science can be anti realist but can Christianity or Islam. Well there I have thrown more out only to say stay tuned for some links in a week or so because I will be away for a bit.


  2. Well I no expert but take for example Berkeley’s subjective idealism where all things such as all concepts and physical things whilst real and held in by the minds if man and god. And that just one outlook. Please note by example there subject to experts scuityy too


  3. David on said:

    I will spare you the wait. Wikipedias Philosphy of Mind is really pretty good. A philosopher told me I am probably not a dualist but a Mysterian like Nagle or idealist monist.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alan on said:

    This has always bothered me. When I open my eyes I have an experience of the world only in my head (present science must say this).
    Then an NDEer experiences accurately in an operating theatre, say a verified experience which is confirmed after regaining normal consciousness. No eyes available but information is presented to the mind. But this must mean in my ‘normal’ waking life there is a kind of overlay of the latter NDE way of experiencing with the normal one.
    This means the information coming at me from reality right now isn’t *just* photons hitting the retina and then processing through the brain. So the second sentence above cannot be accurate and assumes materialism. So some new form of information must be emanating from the outer world and all matter must have the property of “emitting” it, producing it.
    Because the information in an NDE sense is experienced by the mind and the brain is not involved, this means this information *intrinsically* is mind-like. There is then a mind-like property of all matter.

    But the overlay idea seems key. Even now, awake, I am experiencing in my mind, mind-like properties of the out-there world.


    • Alan you have really hit on something very profound, that I have never really thought through properly. This is going to give me an aneurysm! Total mind bender. I have often wondered about how they can see in the NDE state, but never why, and that is the deeper question, and relates to the nature of reality and the fact that we are all living in some sort of Matrix like world. I have always felt that, and my faith points to that, but the physical-metaphysical connection/interface is mind blowing if you start to really consider it.

      I suspect that quantum mechanics would explain it, and the interface between the non-physical conscious reality of the world beyond “death” and the non-real physical world we experience here with all the electrons and protons bumping into each creating the illusions of solid mass, when in fact there is virtually nothing there. I have been thinking a lot about how “God”, or whatever you want to call the overseer of this whole thing, interacts with this universe that he has made (or programmed if you are of that ilk) and it must be through manipulating quantum states. I have 3 books in the pipeline at the moment, the third may well delve into this subject but I need to do a shed-load of reading before I do. I had to solve Schrodinger’s wave equation as part of my undergraduate studies, but that didn’t help when it comes to understanding what quantum mechanics actually does and how it works, and I’m not convinced that the best theoretical physicists do either!


      • David on said:

        The Wave equation describes an entity that is not real in a way we understand real…until we look at it. I have some great stuff recently in Scientific American I will try to link to.


      • Alan on said:

        Thanks for reply! I can’t see how we cannot say there’s something mind-like about reality. Also did occur an NDEer has a limited experience sometimes, in the sense of not having a totally mind-blowing exposure to this reality. I mean, you still get these amazing “journeys” and messages and guides but it’s all not monstrously huge. Maybe because each person’s mind is limited “naturally” (so as to preclude any kind of mind blow-out) but not to do with biology.
        As you say, must be a connection with quantum theory I guess as certain electrical correlations can happen in the physical brain (and QT operates in the brain) but then this mind-likeness then links to QT the other way. And then often there are no brain correlations but people are still experiencing!

        Then there’s remote viewing with these flashes of people and places overlaid suddenly in the mind. Why, if it’s information from a distance and not due to photons, do these images look like our normal vision? Maybe we can only conclude from this that normal vision just isn’t normal at all.


  5. “Also did occur” should be “Also it occurs” … oops!


  6. Interesting that the author of the quoted article ‘Science and the soul’ , Michael Egnor, is based at Stony Brook, which is as far as I know, still the home of the AWARE study.


  7. Good spot NT. I think though Sam parnia has moved to another hospital though but no reason why stony brook still not a centre


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