Friday, August 06, 2010

Mind does really matter

Apparently, the science (if you like) runs contrary to what certain contributors in The Christian Delusion claim:
This article reviews neuroimaging studies of conscious and voluntary regulation of various emotional states (sexual arousal, sadness, negative emotion). The results of these studies show that metacognition and cognitive recontextualization selectively alters the way the brain processes and reacts to emotional stimuli. Neuroimaging studies of the effect of psychotherapy in patients suffering from diverse forms of psychopathology (obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, unipolar major depressive disorder, social phobia, spider phobia, borderline personality) are also examined. The results of these studies indicate that the mental functions and processes involved in diverse forms of psychotherapy exert a significant influence on brain activity. Neuroimaging investigations of the placebo effect in healthy individuals (placebo analgesia, psychostimulant expectation) and patients with Parkinson's disease or unipolar major depressive disorder are also reviewed. The results of these investigations demonstrate that beliefs and expectations can markedly modulate neurophysiological and neurochemical activity in brain regions involved in perception, movement, pain, and various aspects of emotion processing. Collectively, the findings of the neuroimaging studies reviewed here strongly support the view that the subjective nature and the intentional content (what they are "about" from a first-person perspective) of mental processes (e.g., thoughts, feelings, beliefs, volition) significantly influence the various levels of brain functioning (e.g., molecular, cellular, neural circuit) and brain plasticity. Furthermore, these findings indicate that mentalistic variables have to be seriously taken into account to reach a correct understanding of the neural bases of behavior in humans. An attempt is made to interpret the results of these neuroimaging studies with a new theoretical framework called the Psychoneural Translation Hypothesis.
Beauregard M. (2007). "Mind does really matter: evidence from neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and placebo effect." Progress in Neurobiology, Mar 81: 218-36.


  1. What do you guys think of an atheist like Christopher Hitchens speaking of 'soul' and 'body' in general discourse in an interview, without sarcasm, as if he really believes he is both a soul and body?

    Is this normal for an atheist?

  2. Thanks, Puritan. I just listened to the interview. It didn't seem to me that Hitchens believes in a soul in the same or even similar way we as Christians would think of a soul. I'd think he means something quite different. Broadly, I'd think perhaps he means a soul in the same or similar way some atheists talk of the mind emanating from the brain. That is, the immaterial or non-physical is a result of material or physical processes but nothing more. That's my guess anyway.

  3. I think this would be an interesting read:

    "Conventional science has long held the position that 'the mind' is merely an illusion, a side effect of electrochemical activity in the physical brain. Now in paperback, Dr Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley's groundbreaking work, The Mind and the Brain, argues exactly the opposite: that the mind has a life of its own.Dr Schwartz, a leading researcher in brain dysfunctions, and Wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the functioning of the physical brain. Their work has its basis in our emerging understanding of adult neuroplasticity–the brain's ability to be rewired not just in childhood, but throughout life, a trait only recently established by neuroscientists.

    Through decades of work treating patients with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), Schwartz made an extraordinary finding: while following the therapy he developed, his patients were effecting significant and lasting changes in their own neural pathways. It was a scientific first: by actively focusing their attention away from negative behaviors and toward more positive ones, Schwartz's patients were using their minds to reshape their brains–and discovering a thrilling new dimension to the concept of neuroplasticity."

  4. In his Vanity Fair piece called Topic of Cancer he used the metaphor of feeling like he was shackled to his corpse. That was in my mind as well. I agree upon hearing that interview a second time the mention of soul didn't seem as significant as I'd remembered it.

    I've listened to a few interviews of him lately (there's another one done by his blogging colleague at Vanity Fair, Goldberg), after his diagnosis, and the more you hear him the more he sounds like a shallow, silly man. I don't mean to say that in a flippant, mean way. Somebody also said he has all the qualities of a great man except for bravery. He fears man to a strong degree (in the biblical sense of when you fear and revere God alone you don't fear or revere man). He's locked in a position where he doesn't want to give in and be seen as breaking down in his vanity, worldly pride, and rebellious self-will before all his old 'comrades.' He fears man and man's opinion of him.