“Mind-Body Connections: How Does Consciousness Shape the Brain?”, the morning panel of the Beyond the Mind-Body Problem symposium (September 11, 2008), sponsored by the Nour Foundation, UN-DESA, and the Université de Montréal, featured some interesting exchanges featuring a number of non-materialist neuroscientists. Non-materialist neuroscientists think that your mind is real and that it helps shape your brain. It is not a mere illusion created by the workings of the brain.
(Both panels were televised and can be viewed here.)
Non-materialist neuroscience is practical
French philosopher Elie During led off the first panel ( Mario Beauregard, Esther Sternberg, Henry Stapp, and Jeffrey Schwartz, in order of speaking) by noting that the French mathematician Descartes – who believed that the mind was real – was, in a sense, the unlikely father of materialism because he tried to separate the mind entirely from the body:
Once the body and the brain were reduced to their sheer mechanical functioning and the mind was considered as substantially distinct from matter, the way was open for materialism: one only needed to drop the second part of the scheme—namely, the spiritual substance—and explain everything along mechanistic lines.
He also noted that quite a few of the panelists are doctors, and that doctors tend to be practical minded:
Here we have physicians who were led to psychoneurology by an intensive clinical or therapeutic practice. I believe this outlook makes a real difference. It means these people share a very concrete perspective. Their take on mind-body connections cannot be separated from the way they interact with patients who generally have their own views on the issue.
The focus of most non-materialist research is not armchair theorizing but treatments that work.
The question they are asking is not so much: “What is the nature of consciousness?” but rather, “What does consciousness do?” And such a query implies more than how consciousness operates. It echoes a deeper concern: “What can consciousness do for us?” In other words, can it improve our lives? Our selves? This pragmatic bent, I believe, is also palpable in Ostad Elahi’s description of the ethical underpinnings of spiritual life, so the pragmatic stance may well be one of the major threads of today’s event.
Of course non-materialist neuroscience needs theoretical underpinnings, but as pragmatists, they tend to think that the theory emerges from the evidence, so the best place to begin is by gathering evidence.
The panel and audience then watched a clip from a documentary in which Leonard diCaprio shares with panelist Jefffrey Schwartz how he interacted with OCD patients to develop a proper acting method for his film The Aviator, on the life of Howard Hughes.
Here’s a clip from The Aviator :
And here’s DiCaprio talking about his portrayal of Hughes, who had the disorder (which Schwartz treats successfully with mindfulness techniques).
Mind-body panel 1: Mario Beauregard – A Tale of Two Cultures …
Mind-body panel 1: Esther Sternberg – “Esther, you’re going to ruin your career by doing this.”
Mind-body panel 1: Henry Stapp – Quantum theory makes us agents
Mind-body panel 1: Jeffrey Schwartz on how Leo DiCaprio gave himself obsessive-compulsive disorder and then cured it
Next:: Mind-body panel 1: Mario Beauregard – A Tale of Two Cultures …