So we all had a sound grounding in learning how to use the current scientific theories, firstly to define problems and secondly in our analysis of the data. But there was no mention of consciousness. Neither did our course, Natural Sciences, have any lectures on the history of science or how it arose at the time of the enlightenment. That was part of the course on the History and Philosophy of Science, not provided for budding scientists, let alone budding doctors, perhaps on the unspoken grounds that it was in fact Unnatural, or at least Unnecessary Science in a crowded course.
Of course as we came to our clinical work and learned about Freud, Charcot and other philosophers of mind, consciousness could no longer be avoided as a topic. But just as hysteria had been thought of as due to the wandering of the womb in women, consciousness was seen as arising from and created by the brain. This view was clearly unsatisfactory, and it also led to some very unsatisfactory methods of psychiatric treatment. This was the time of William Sargent and his book Battle for the Mind, proposing, amongst other things, the use of sedation for anxiety states so that two or three days of unconsciousness would allow the brain to ‘re-boot’. It was also the time of leucotomy, when isolating large chunks of brain became fashionable as a treatment for schizophrenia and ‘bad behaviour’ – it had been found to tame and quieten monkeys. Schizophrenia was also treated by rendering patients almost comatose with insulin therapy, and by inducing grand mal seizures with ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy). Mind was regarded as simply a brain mechanism, its disorders to be treated mechanically. Not a glorious period for psychiatry.
With the advent of the Maharishi, meditation and Eastern philosophy it was becoming clear that the limitations of western science and its insistence on a brain-based creation of consciousness were no longer tenable. By this time I had discovered the work of Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and learned meditation in the tradition of the Shankaracharya Swami Shantanand Saraswati. The introduction to the West of transcendental meditation by the Maharishi meant that there was now a pool of meditation subjects who could be investigated, and it soon became apparent that meditation could produce very wide mental states which had some reflection in changes of brain physiology, but was much wider than that. Parapsychology was also coming of age, with studies on telepathy, remote viewing and psychokinesis. Ian Stevenson even produced good scientific data by suggesting that past lives might have some basis in reality and could not always be explained on the basis of false memory.
As quantum mechanics became more widely understood, the classical view of physics no longer held for the very small and the very large, and with the recognition that every particle in the universe is influenced by every other particle, the then position of physics with its isolated effects required modification.
It became apparent that there were two camps, the materialists, who defined consciousness as arising from the brain and did not look beyond this. Theirs was a clockwork universe with joy, love, ecstasy, friendship, just being the action of neurones within the brain. Daniel Dennett, who holds this view strongly, once said to me at a conference, “When we understand the function of the neurones completely, there will be nothing left to explain about consciousness.” This hard materialistic view became mainstream in many branches of medicine and science. At this level of science there was no mention of consciousness. Any suggestion that consciousness might be a different substance, indeed some would go so far as to say, the basic substance, rather than material, would automatically be attacked by materialists, so negating that stream of thought.
As Church attendances fall, and people become more reluctant to accept articles of faith uncritically, a new religion is arising, the religion of materialism. But materialism, like any religion, has its own strongly held faith and its reluctance to admit any evidence which does not fit in with its belief structure. Its mechanistic view of the world and of human kind has led to an impoverished society where mechanical-driven models of human behaviour – beings with no consciousness, no soul – degrade our societies and the planet.
This pervasive scientific view has led to university departments refusing to employ scientists who think outside the materialistic box. When I became interested in near-death experiences and their very wide-reaching conscious state, I was confronted by materialists who suggested this state was just another brain malfunction. When it was shown that these arose at the time when, following cardiac arrest, brain function was absent, the materialist explanation was that even if no activity is seen on the surface of the brain – flat EEG – there were secret workings within the brain which would explain it all. This has to be nonsense because a conscious state of that magnitude would involve huge areas of correctly functioning brain, for which there was no scientific evidence. The only explanation was that consciousness and the brain are not always intermixed in the way we thought they were. This is an exciting line of thought to follow, but is ridiculed by the materialist scientific paradigm.
There are many other examples, all of which point to the limitations imposed on thinking by the Church of Materialism. This is not to say that materialism is always limiting; in much of science the materialistic world view is adequate. But when it comes to human mind, the concept of soul and our understanding of the wider mental states that occur, to quote Sherrington; “It puts its finger to its lips and is silent.”
How widespread and how strong is the Church of Materialism? I have found that most materialistic scientists, when asked if they are conscious or simply a machine, deny that they are simply machines. Try out this question on your materialistic colleagues. Are they automatons? At least one of my colleagues had the decency to say, not at the weekends, but definitely during the week. Those who have worked most closely with the brain and understand it came to the same conclusion: mind and brain are different. Wilder Penfield, the great Canadian neurosurgeon who pioneered surgery for epilepsy, said:
For myself, after a professional lifetime spent in trying to discover how the brain accounts for the mind, it comes as a surprise now to discover, during this final examination of the evidence, that the dualist hypothesis [separation of mind and brain] seems the more reasonable of the two possible explanations. . . . Mind comes into action and goes out of action with the highest brain-mechanism, it is true. But the mind has energy. The form of that energy is different from that of neuronal potentials that travel the axone pathways. There I must leave it.
Having a science which is limited only to material things ignores a whole spectrum of human experience. It is destructive because it does not take into account the fundamental nature of the human, conscious being. The desperate attempts of materialists to limit consciousness to the brain is nicely summed up by Bernard Kastrup, a computer scientist:
Here we have consciousness trying to trick consciousness into believing that it doesn’t exist….The motivation behind eliminative materialism is clear: if we deny the very existence of consciousness, presto, we no longer need to explain it!
Bernardo Kastrup. Brief Peeks Beyond. Winchester, UK: iffBooks; 2015:60-61.
The Galileo Report challenges the materialistic position head-on, and sets out to examine the evidence against it, and the belief structures of our current scientific community. As Galen Strawson, academic philosopher at the University of Texas said:
This particular denial (of the existence of consciousness) is the strangest thing that has ever happened in the whole history of human thought.
The completion and circulation of this report is both timely and important. I wish it every success in helping to demonstrate the illogicality of our materialistic culture, and helping materialists to see themselves as just another Church.