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Recent Publications 6:
The Conscious Mind and the Material World
Douglas M. Stokes
PF Lyceum Blog #23
Posted December 14th, 2007
Conscious Mind and the Material World: On Psi, the Soul and the Self, the new book by experimental psychologist and parapsychologist Dr. Doug Stokes, examines the nature of the self or to use an increasingly outmoded term the soul. (To order the book and to see the table of contents, please click here.)
The book covers the mind-body problem (the nature of the relationship between the conscious mind and the physical body) from both philosophical and sometimes religious perspectives as well as from the perspective of modern neuroscience.
The notion that the world consists of nothing but dead matter sometimes temporarily masquerading as life is examined and ultimately rejected. For Stokes, consciousness lies at the very foundation of the universe and likely permeates the cosmos.
Conscious Mind and the Material World also provides an overview of parapsychology, that is, the study of such psi phenomena as telepathy, precognition and psychokinesis. Such phenomena suggest that the world view of modern physicalism (the doctrine that reality consists solely of physical objects and energy) is incomplete and that there exist aspects of the mind that are not readily explainable by current theories of physics.
Most of us identify ourselves with the Person (that is, one’s physical body, thoughts, memories, emotions and role in society). Some parapsychological phenomena (such as mediumship, hauntings, apparitions, near-death experiences, and children who report ostensible memories of previous lives suggest that that the Person may survive the death of the physical body. This evidence is examined in depth in the book.
However, it will be argued that the findings of modern neuroscience cast doubt upon the hypothesis that one’s memories, emotions, and thoughts could remain intact after the destruction of the entire physical brain.
It is argued that one’s true self is best conceived, not as a collection of emotions, memories and thoughts, but rather as the center of pure consciousness that remembers the memories, feels the emotions, and thinks the thoughts, rather than being the memories, emotions, and thoughts themselves. Such a center of consciousness might well survive the death of the body. One is not one’s physical body. The body is a collection of molecules that are completely replaced over the span of just a few years, while one’s self seems to remain in place.
However, modern research on split-brain patients casts doubt on the idea that there is only one center of consciousness inhabiting a given brain. Indeed, it will be argued that there is likely a myriad of centers of consciousness to be found within one brain, with each of them falling under the illusion that it alone controls the body, thinks its thoughts, senses its sensations and feels its feelings.
The view that the self or soul enters the body at conception (or at birth for our pro-choice audience), remains in the body throughout its life, and then leaves the brain at death is likely the result of the soul falling under the illusion that it is identical to the Person. Selves or souls may be constantly entering and exiting the body, each soul immediately falling under the spell of the brain’s memories and quickly buying into the illusion that it is the Person. Such “reincarnation” could be happening all the time and we poor souls would not have an inkling of it.
Finally, the possibility that consciousness may play the grandest of roles, that of the Creator, is considered as Stokes examines the evidence for the anthropic principle, the notion that the laws of the universe appear to be fine-tuned to give rise to conscious beings.
Thus, one’s self may be at once as small and insignificant as a proton (which likely enjoys eternal life) and as grand as a fragment of the Creator (who may well have blown Himself to smithereens in the ultimate suicide bombing incident now known as the Big Bang).
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