In “The Neural Buddhists” (New York Times, May 13, 2008), David Brooks (yes, he of the BoBos, the bohemian bourgeois*) references Tom Wolfe’s dramatic 1996 article “Sorry, but your soul just died,”
.. in which he captured the militant materialism of some modern scientists.To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behavior. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are “hard-wired” to do this or that. Religion is an accident.
In this materialist view, people perceive God’s existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems.
Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I took it all to pieces in The Spiritual Brain. There was no basis whatever from the new neuroscience for that view – on the contrary, the new neuroscience was killing it!
Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.
Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.
Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states.
Do they indeed? Brooks hopes that the revolution will stop with “neural Buddhism,”which turns out to mean things like “the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships” and “God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.”
Sorry, BoBos, it’s not up to you to decide where it will end. It will end where the evidence leads, and the evidence simply does not favour materialism – yours or anyone else’s.
Also: Just up at The Mindful Hack
Albert Einstein’s letter coming up at auction: Does it show that he was an atheist? (I think that’s just a publicity ploy.)
Evolutionary psychology: So you don’t stick to your goals? Blame your kludgebrain … or maybe not
(Excerpt: But why evolution? What happened to our stars, our parents, our societies, our religion, and our genes as the explanations for why we do not meet our goals? Oh, come to think of it, evolution is in the news right now, what with Darwin’s anniversary celebrations and the Expelled film.)
Health can sometimes be fun, free, and painless: The placebo effect gets its own Web site
*Brits call these types “upper class twits.”