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Mind, Brain and the Search for God Alasdair Coles CiS conference, The King’s Centre, Osney Mead, Oxford.

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Presentation on theme: "Mind, Brain and the Search for God Alasdair Coles CiS conference, The King’s Centre, Osney Mead, Oxford."— Presentation transcript:

1 Mind, Brain and the Search for God Alasdair Coles CiS conference, The King’s Centre, Osney Mead, Oxford

2 BodySoul / Mind MaterialImmaterial My starting position: Platonic dualism EternalDecaying

3 BodySoul / MindGod Material Immaterial My starting position: dualism

4 Body Mind Material Current consensus in neuroscience: reductive monism Methodological reductionism Versus Ontological reductionism

5 Out of body experiences Blanke. Brain 2004; 127: 243

6 Cross-over trial of 36 volunteers psilocybin (30 mg/70 kg) (mushrooms 5HT2a,cR) methylphenidate hydrochloride (40 mg/70 kg) All volunteers had some knowledge of religious activities…. Half on a daily basis Assessed by 32-item questionnaire “Mysticism Scale” Magic mushrooms and God Griffiths Psychopharmacology (2006) 187:268–283 Drug 1 Drug 2 Test 1Test 2

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9 Acquired paedophilia

10 Burns JM, Swerdlow RH, Arch Neurol 2003.

11 Norman Geschwind Boston “Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Personality” In between seizures: Hyposexuality Hypergraphia Hyper-religiosity Waxman SG & Geschwind N. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1975;32:

12 “You are all healthy people, ….but you have no idea what joy that joy is which we epileptics experience the second before a seizure... I do not know whether this joy lasts for seconds or hours or months, but believe me, I would not exchange it for all the delights of this world.” Dostoyevsky Mystical seizures

13 “All of our behaviour can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge.” - Sam Harris “We feel we choose, but we don’t,” says Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London. “You may have thought you decided whether to have tea or coffee this morning, for example, but the decision may have been made long before you were aware of it.” Our brains are in control not us

14 Soon… Haynes Nat Neurosci May;11(5):543-5 The Haynes experiment….

15 Soon Nat Neurosci May;11(5):543-5

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17 NMDA receptor activated Hippocampal activity Finding Osney Mead Long-term potentiation Spatial navigation Molecular event Altered activity in specific pathway Changed behaviour Change in electrical activity Altered network activity Bottom-up reductionism

18 The effect of musical training on brain structure Gärtner H, Brain morphometry shows effects of long-term musical practice in middle-aged keyboard players. Front Psychol Sep 23;4:636 Professional musicians Music teachers

19 NMDA receptor hippocampus behaviour Long-term potentiation Spatial navigation Top-down processing as well as bottom-up

20 Sachin Tendulkar Versus Shoaib Akhtar 400msec to plan and execute Past deliberation embodied in automaticity

21 Character Molecular event Altered activity in specific pathway Changed behaviour Change in electrical activity Altered network activity

22 Collision of bottom up and top-down: the human predicament “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. ….. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Romans 7

23 Body Soul / Mind God Material Immaterial My current position: non-reductionist physicalism The importance of emergence

24 God in the Synapse in the Vatican garden John Eccles and Karl Popper The Self and its Brain 1984

25 The chair and “nothing but”

26 “nothing but”

27 The chair and “nothing but”

28 “nothing but”

29 The chair and emergence

30 Old Testament (nepes) “Life” itself, as in Gen 2:7 “man became a living soul [being]” No suggestion of immaterial separate soul Little suggestion of afterlife New Testament (psyche) At the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (1Co 15:51-54) Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luk 23:43) Biblical position on soul

31 Life after death may be as an immaterial soul before the new body resurrected for a dualist requires a resurrected body for a physicalist. So where is the continuity? Views of the body A dualist may despise the flesh A physicalist must respect the body Pastoral consequences

32 Many Christians are implicit dualists This is problematic for neuroscientists Monist accounts of brain tend to be reductionist and exclude God A non reductive physicalist leaves space for God Most behaviour is immediately determined by our biology Our behaviour may alter brain structure There is a dynamic interaction between brain and mind Summary

33 Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical And Neurobiological Perspectives On Moral Responsibility And Free Will 2007.

34 Maguire EA Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A Apr 11;97(8): Change in brain structure with use: London taxi drivers

35 Karen Armstrong Aged 17, entered Catholic convent. 7 years later: left. Tried to teach. “Fainting episodes”. Went to “hell”. Seven years later: diagnosed with epilepsy Author of Through the narrow gate The spiral staircase History of God

36 Karen Armstrong “Certainly just before I have a grand mal fit I have a 'vision' of such peace, joy and significance that I can only call it God………. What I can say, however, is that if my 'visions' have sometimes let me into 'Hell' they have also given me possible intimations of a Heaven which I would not have been without.”

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38 The lesson of Ulysses ……


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