Mar 21, 2011 | By

Mind, Brain and Spirit

Scientific research into the human brain and the phenomena of consciousness and choice is one of the most rapidly evolving areas in science, and it includes the fields of neurobiology, psychology and even computer science. At the same time, the debate between strict materialism and various types of dualism, which dates back at least 400 years, is alive and well. A selection of resources is provided below.


Carl Zimmer, “100 Trillion Connections”. January 2011 Scientific American p59. An article looking at the complexity of the human brain.

Michael Graziano: “Why We See Spirits and Souls”. August 10, 2010, from The Templeton Foundation Big Questions Online. Understanding the neurobiology of religious belief is a far cry from explaining it away.  A short rebuttal of Scientific anti-theism.

David B. Hart: “In Self Defense”, by, July 9, 2010, from the Templeton Foundation Big Questions Online.    A review of Marilynne Robinson’s book The Absence of Mind which takes aim at the reductionist “parascience” that seeks to explain away ordinary consciousness as just an illusion.


From On Being (APM) with Krista Tippett:
January 27, 2011: an interview with “Jon Kabat Zinn”. A discussion on mindfulness, with reference to his book “Coming to our senses” (2005).
“Holding Life Conciously”, on Being (APM) June 24, 2010.  Arthur Zajonc, a physicist from Amherst, sees contemplation as investigating life from the inside.
“Quarks and Creation”, on Being January 13, 2011.  Physicist and Theologian John Polkinghorne applies the deepest insights of modern physics to think about how the world fundamentally works and how the universe might make space for prayer.

From The Philospher’s Zone with Alan Saunders at
“The Philosophical Baby”, January 29, 2011. An interview with Alison Gopnik on the latest, surprising, scientific research on early childhood mental and moral development.
“The Human Machine”, Nov 11, 2010.   A discussion on the issues of materialism through the lens of the life and ideas of 18th century french philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie.
“Eliminative Materialism”, June 19, 2010. Pat Churchland argues that ideas about materialism may have to be modified in light of recent brain research.


Alfred R. Mele, Effective Intentions, The Power of Conscious Will, Oxford University Press 2009. This book reviews recent literature and neurological/psychology studies relevant to the concept of consciousness and free will. Mele provides a detailed technical critique of the following published claims: Studies have found that conscious reports of the intentions to act lag behind the onset of neural preparations to act – which proves that free will does not exist.

Rudy Rucker, The Lifebox The Seashell and the Soul: What Gnarly Computation Taught Me About Ultimate Reality, the Meaning Of Life , and How To Be Happy. Basic Books 2006. According to Rucker, we’re in the midst of a third intellectual revolution.  The first came with Newton: the planets obey physical laws.  The second came with Darwin: biology obeys genetic laws.  In today’s third revolution, were coming to realize that even minds and societies emerge from interacting laws that can be regarded as computations. Everything is a computation. His analysis discusses startling aspects of the everyday world, when approached with a computational mindset, touching upon such topics as chaos, the internet, free will, and happiness.  “a philosophical entertainment that teaches us how to enjoy our daily lives to the fullest possible extent.”

Bruce Lipton,  The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. Hay House 2005. Abstract – Dr. Bruce Lipton is a former medical school professor and research scientist. His experiments, and that of other leading edge scientists, have examined in great detail the processes by which cells receive information. The implications of this research radically change our understanding of life. It shows that genes and DNA do not control our biology; that instead DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts. Dr. Lipton’s profoundly hopeful synthesis of the latest and best research in cell biology and quantum physics is being hailed as a major breakthrough showing that our bodies can be changed as we retrain our thinking.

Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self. 2010. In this book, the author probes key topics in science, religion, and consciousness, challenging the “parascientific” crusade against religion under the banner of science. In Robinson’s view, scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest. Instead, science is a search for answers. It engages the problem of knowledge, an aspect of the mystery of consciousness, but does not offer anything approaching a final model. Robinson explores the power and variety of human consciousness and the nature of subjectivity, placing human consciousness at the center of the religion-science debate.

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