Craig Payton/ Book Report: Brain Wars

by Craig Payton

Brain Wars

The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives

Mario Beauregard


From the back cover;

“The current assumption that the brain makes consciousness, like the liver makes bile, and that human consciousness is confined to the brain and body, can only be called neuromythology. This belief will not endure because it is unscientific, and cannot account for how consciousness manifests in the world. In this important book, Dr. Mario Beauregard shows why.” Larry Dossey, M.D., author of “Reinventing Medicine, and “The Power of Premonitions.”

From the time I was quite young I knew in my heart that something was missing in the Modern-Western-Scientific worldview. The thought, still promoted in many scientific circles, that human consciousness is merely the result of the functioning of a “meat computer” struck me as short sighted and ignorant. This view led to disregarding psychology and psychotherapy as useful pursuits. I give tremendous respect to pioneers like Dr. Beauregard who are entering the fray to prove a world view once restricted to mystics but now implied by quantum mechanics and the subject of exploration on the cutting edge of science.

One of the first tasks Beauregard takes on is to describe the worldview which has informed mainstream science since Newton, which he identifies as “Scientific Materialism”. This is not to denigrate or deny the value of achievements made in the physical sciences over the last 300 years or so, but to move the conversation forward to allow for the possibility that this model does not offer a complete description of reality. This book asserts and supports the point of view that consciousness, reasoning, imagination and will are not products of the brain. Mind is a nonphysical phenomenon interacting with the brain.

It is interesting to note that near the end of the 19th century there was a certain conceit in physics that all that could be known in that field had nearly been achieved. There was only the resolution of certain “anomalous” data which needed explanation. This seemingly small area opened up into the vast domain of Quantum Mechanics. The effects of these discoveries are still being explored to this day.

Beauregard asserts that materialist theories cannot solve the mind/brain problem. Materialist dogma has blocked science from exploring legitimate avenues while discarding remarkable discoveries as “anomalous” data. Multiple lines of hard evidence show that mental events do exist and can influence our brains and bodies. They show that our minds can affect events occurring outside our bodies, even when the brain is apparently not functioning. Beauregard explores certain lines of research further to show clear proof that the views of materialism are incomplete. An important aspect of this discussion is the materialist fundamentalists who resist absorbing and exploring data that does not fit with their beliefs about the world. This is not science. Science should always explore all lines of evidence, especially when such evidence challenges assumptions. Not to do so defeats real scientific exploration.

Over the course of this book Dr. Beauregard covers fascinating material which starts out on relatively accepted though fringe areas of inquiry and eventually lands in chapter 8 covering the topic of Mystical Experiences taboo subject to science.

In the first chapter the subject of Placebo is covered as well as the less well known, Nocebo effect which means to cause harm through belief in the ability of a substance or remote action to harm. Medicine has long known of the placebo effect and new medicines undergo double-blind, placebo controlled trials. The interesting thing about placebo is that administration of placebo therapies has been demonstrated time and again to exhibit much more positive effects than no treatment.

In recent years many promising new drugs have failed to beat the performance of placebo. It has been theorized that due to the tremendous amount of marketing and it’s success that clinical trial subjects have a greatly enhanced impression of the ability of new drug therapies’ effectiveness. Therefore, in a blind study when receiving a placebo pill they elicit a strong placebo response, generating results as good as the drug. This doesn’t mean that these drugs are less effective, but that placebo response has somehow become stronger. Because of the requirement to beat placebo many pharma companies are going through difficulty getting drugs past trial stage, possibly because of their own previous marketing.

Is it possible to harness the placebo response in and of itself, independently of drug or surgical intervention? Research into how the placebo effect accomplishes pain management through release of endorphins, and Parkinson’s disease management through enhanced release of the neuro­transmitter Dopamine, demonstrates that we may likely be able to improve the function of our body, cognitive function and emotional states without chemical or other intervention.

In Chapter 2 Dr. Beauregard explores a way to train the mind to improve function through the method of Neurofeedback.  It was long accepted that humans could not exert conscious control over brain activity. Neurofeedback is used to train individuals to control their brainwave state. Generally changing the brainwaves into a more relaxed state known as Alpha achieves the desired result. This state not only is associated with relaxation but has been shown effective in reducing or eliminating epileptic seizures and as an effective treatment for ADD and ADHD, Alcoholism and PTSD.

Alpha brainwaves are slower than Beta brainwaves which are more typical of ordinary wakefulness. Alpha is often seen in trained meditators and the ability to achieve this state at will has been shown to be responsible for the ability to maintain a calm-focused state.

These results demonstrate the ability of the brain to change through training and link directly to the concept of Ch.3 Neuroplasticity. Having trained in meditation and studied its effects the results of neurofeedback are not expected, and the effectiveness of this training to achieve similar skills as developed by meditation is very impressive and important.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change, especially to adapt in a positive way, throughout life and in response to everyday experience. It strikes me as self evident that this should be so, but Beauregard shows that science’s exploration of the topic is quite new, dating back to the 1960′s. Up until that time the brain was seen as fixed. The early view of neuroscientists was that the brain is a hardwired machine.

In short it has been demonstrated that you can train your brain to improve its function. This is well known to practitioners of Yoga, Buddhism and others involved in the many and varied methods of meditation in the world.

We can through training see lasting improvement in concentration, and attention. Further meditative practice develops improved function in emotional well being, empathy and compassion. Such training can actually alter the physical structure of the brain and there is solid evidence to indicate such training can slow cognitive decline and reduction of gray matter volume seen in normal aging.

Given the evidence of physical changes seen in the brain the next question to arise is the next step in the book. Can the mind affect the body to create change, well-being, and healing? Now we are getting into really interesting territory. Although I believe the answer is again already self evident that the mind can and does affect the body, both positively and negatively. Dr Beauregard goes into some good detail on the evidence proving this point. Another interesting question to me is “how do we maximize the mind body connection to create health and well being in ourselves and to assist others to do so for themselves?”

In Ch.4 Surfing the Psychosomatic Network Beauregard asks the question,”Can we use our minds to heal our bodies?” He uses several examples to show evidence of this process. Psychosomatic medicine emerged at the beginning of the 20th century but it’s theories remained largely speculative for many decades. In 1964 a psychiatrist at Stanford University published an article linking the immune system with mental events and coined the term psychoimmunology. By the early 70′s researchers had added the interaction of the nervous system with the immune system and combined with theories about stress induced disease and stress reduction as therapy established the field of Psychonueroimmunology (PNI). Studies in this field have shown that our thoughts and feelings do affect our health and well-being. Such studies show the interconnectivity of psychological and social factors and biochemical changes affecting the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. This describes the psychosomatic network. These processes and connections are established. Can we deliberately influence this network?

As a stunning example of proof Psychologist Jeffery Dusek at Harvard Medical School conducted a study on Gene expression. a comparison was made between 19 long term mental-relaxation practitioners, 19 healthy control subjects and 20 individuals who went through an eight week training course in relaxation methods. Dusek, etal, found 2200 genes were activated differently in the longtime practitioners relative to the controls. They found that a gene that is turned on or off by stress is turned the other way during relaxation. This demonstrates the mind affecting the body and its health in a deep way.

Beauregard goes on to cite several studies demonstrating the benefit of positive attitude as a protection against sickness and a predictor explored as a mind-body technique well known in older traditional cultures. Brain imaging has shown that during effective visualization that the brain becomes as activated as if the subject were actually seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and moving. Mental imagery has been shown to positively affect the immune system.

Mindfulness meditation is another mind-body method which has been demonstrated in cancer patients to reduce anxiety, depression, anger and bodily manifestations of stress.

Many PNI researchers continue to reduce the psychological component of the psychosomatic network to nothing more than chemical and electrical activity in the nerve cells of our brain.

Further in this chapter Beauregard discusses the mysterious discoveries found in the physiology of those suffering from DID (Disassociative Identity Disorder) in which an individual exhibits multiple personalities. It has been observed that certain aspects of such individuals’ physiology will alter when switching from one personality to another. These changes may be as minor as a diabetic requiring different levels of insulin to as dramatic as an individual who exhibited needle track marks when in one personality which would disappear in another.

Chapter 5 takes on; The Mind Force Within; Hypnosis

Beauregard points out that despite our cultural familiarity with hypnosis, science has no definitive answer to what it is exactly or how it works. Despite this the process of hypnosis is being widely used to harness the power of the mind in amazing ways. We can define hypnosis as an altered state of consciousness accompanied by changes in perception, memory, emotions and action. Hypnosis does not require another person as hypnotic suggestion may also be self administered.

Hypnosis has been demonstrated effective in pain management with many different medical issues. Hypnosis has been demonstrated to reduce pain and anxiety in expectant mothers.

Amazingly hypnosis has been shown effective even in creating physical change in the body. Several studies in the 1970s successfully demonstrated the ability of hypnotized women to increase their breast size. Participants with better visual skill experienced greater success.

Hypnotic suggestion was used successfully to accelerate healing of fracture.

Skeptics have argued against hypnosis, attempting to discredit it. Researchers have been able to demonstrate that hypnotized subjects can change the way the brain processes information.

It is fairly clear that the phenomena of hypnotism is not some force imposed from the outside but rather a method to let down the normal barriers preventing access to abilities which lay dormant within us. It seems that deeper levels of the mind can be accessed through hypnosis. This deeper mind or larger intelligence has a greater capacity to influence the body.

Chapter 6. Beyond Space and Time: Psi

In Chapter 6 Beauregard takes the next step and asks,”can this deeper intelligence affect the bodily functions of others at a distance? Can it receive information beyond the reach of ordinary senses?

Beauregard starts the chapter discussing the case of Joe McMoneagle who had a classic Near Death Experience (NDE) and then returned to his life with new abilities. In 1977 he was recruited by the army for a top-secret project called “Stargaze” which also involved the CIA and the DIA and the navy. This program was to use Remote-viewing to gather intelligence. Regardless of what skeptics claim, these agencies gave credulity to the psychic ability of certain individuals to view unknown targets remotely and obtain useful intelligence.

In 1995, in response to a request by the US Congress, a statistician from U.C. Davis reviewed previously  classified Psi research and made the following important statement which I will transcribe in full from the text;

Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government sponsored research… have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud… It is recommended that future experiments focus on understanding how this phenomenon works, and on how to make it as useful as possible. THERE IS LITTLE BENEFIT TO CONTINUING EXPERIMENTS DESIGNED TO OFFER PROOF.

Psi discoveries are still widely considered, and often dismissively as “anomalous.” No current theories in physics, psychology, or neuroscience can explain them convincingly. However such anomalies should not be disregarded or seen as mistakes or inconveniences. The history of science shows us that anomalies can lead to major breakthroughs and even scientific revolution. History also shows that scientists are often not open minded or even rational in the face of ideas which challenge the conventional and accepted worldview.

The field of Psi seems to be the only scientific field for which a few “professional pseudo-skeptics” systematically attempt to bring the domain’s findings into disrepute.

True skeptics conduct an open minded and objective inquiry for truth. Pseudo-skeptics on the other hand are believers, committed to defending scientific materialism. Because Psi phenomena demonstrate the incompleteness of the materialist worldview, pseudo skeptics must dismiss all evidence for Psi as uncontrolled, unreplicable or flawed – even in the face of phenomena being replicated hundreds of times in independent laboratories across the world.

A Major theme of “Brain Wars” is that it is very important to see the War that is taking place in the halls of science between those truly trying to advance our understanding of unexplained phenomena and those who would seek to prevent such research solely because it threatens a worldview is being proven outmoded.

Beauregard explores Telepathy (mind to mind communication) and pre-cognition (knowing something is going to happen before it happens) and he reviews the methods of study and the proof they offer. The ability to influence living organisms at a distance is studied convincingly as well. The author points out that our inability to explain what research is demonstrating does not at all disqualify the research. It has often been the case that research has preceded theoretical explanations.

Classical physics does not offer any help explaining these phenomena. The model of Quantum physics seems to be indicating certain aspects of reality which have not yet been integrated into our thinking. The ideas of quantum non-locality, or quantum entanglement demonstrate that objects that appear to be separate are in fact deeply interconnected regardless of distance.

The implications of this understanding may go far to explain why we can access information from other’s minds, why minds can influence other minds, physical systems and biological organisms.

Many theoretical physicists have offered the idea that Mind plays a central role in physical reality. Are they now saying in a new way what Buddhists have said for millennia?‑ “All is Mind.” Psi phenomena suggest that mind plays a fundamental role in nature, and that psyche and the physical world are NOT radically separated.

To more fully quell the arguments of the pseudo-skeptics in Ch. 7 Mind Out of Body: Mind, Brain and Near Death Experiences. Beauregard demonstrates proof for higher mental functions such as perception, memory, thinking and self awareness while the brain is severely impaired or not functioning at all.

There have long been tales reporting experiences when they were near death, or even when clinically dead and then brought back to life.

Skeptics have questioned the validity of such experiences probably as long as modern science has been aware of such reports. A common theory among scientists is that the commonalities of certain aspects of the Near Death Experience (NDE) are due to the dying brain generating the same imagery, such as a tunnel and/or a bright light. This is another example of reducing human experience and consciousness to nothing more than electrical impulses in the brain.

Dr.Beauregard cites several examples of NDEs wherein the subject was able to provide unique data which would not have been available to them under any materialist model of the nature of consciousness. These verifiable experiences demonstrate clearly that consciousness exists separately from the brain and body. This of course is something materialist science can NOT admit. I agree it is difficult to fully comprehend the gravity of the realization which the evidence shows. It is a monumental understanding. Beyond the simple fact of individuals providing verifiable information about actions which took place, conversations or even knowing where a missing item was placed, those experiencing NDE’s consistently show a renewed appreciation for life, a sense of wonder and gratitude as well as a sense of purpose and the meaningfulness of their life. It is important also to note that such NDE’s have been reported by members of all religions as well as the non-religious. Interpretations of the experience, which inescapably contains religious overtones, were colored by their belief system, but the consistency of all reporters overall experience is striking. This seems to demonstrate a phenomena which is common to all people.

The author effectively refutes the common arguments supporting the materialist worldview, even though these arguments never attempt to explain the verifiable information supposedly brain dead or comatose individuals were able to provide.

A survey published in 1998 shows that 93% of the most prominent scientists is the US (and 100% of members of the National Academy of Sciences) totally rejected the idea of an afterlife. This can help us understand why the implications of research on NDEs is so threatening to mainstream scientists.

Ch.8 Embracing a Greater Self

Mystical Experiences

One of the important points Beauregard makes in this chapter is once again to soundly refute the theory that spiritual phenomena can be explained by a malfunctioning brain. Temporal Lobe epilepsy has often been cited as the cause of certain mystical experiences and has even gone so far as to claim to explain the mystical experiences of historical figures, such as Joan of Arc. He makes a good case that the evidence is not congruent with the conclusions drawn by skeptics.

Neurotheology is the attempt to understand what occurs in the brain during religious or spiritual experiences. Such brain imaging studies cannot prove or disprove the existence of a “higher power”. Certain researchers and journalists have argued that because we can find certain neural correlates associated with spiritual experience that we have proven that such experiences are delusion. This is a mistaken view, the same as saying that a painting you are viewing is an illusion because it can be associated with brain activity in the visual portion of your brain.

In concluding this section Beauregard presents the idea of a filter. NDE’s, OBE’s and MEs (mystical experiences) are all examples where the usual filtering provided by the brain is somehow bypassed, whether by temporary shut down of the physical body or electrical or chemical alterations of the brain. The effect of this “filter” is to separate us from the perception of the Ground of Being which allows us to know that we are not encapsulated in our brains and bodies and separate from each-other but rather connected with all others and with the entire universe.

In the concluding essay to this book “A Great Shift in Consciousness” Dr.Beauregard continues to draw from the world view of Quantum Physics to show how the view of reality demonstrated by these new understandings can easily enfold the phenomena described throughout his book. Materialist science based on Newtonian physics took us out of the dark ages showing us a world never seen before. Now there is another invisible world for us to see, one that the dogmas of materialist science attempt to obscure, but that the discoveries of quantum physics make clear.

Among the implications this new understanding brings the concept that mind and consciousness represent an aspect of reality as fundamental as the physical world. Also mind and the physical world are constantly interacting as they are indeed not separate, only appearing to be so. Finally as this book shows so well mind and consciousness are NOT produced by the brain.

Humans are not powerless, biochemical machines. It is time to take back our dignity and power as conscious beings and scientists as well. Science can and should move forward enthusiastically to explore the implications of this new worldview.

I am grateful to have encountered this book, published only this year, which makes so many connections to fields I have studied. Throughout this work Dr. Beauregard has maintained the stance of a professional researcher, a true scientific pioneer. The power of his conclusions to make rational and accessible ideas and subjects heretofore regarded as mystical and superstitious nonsense is valuable beyond my ability to describe. The knowledge I have gained in studying this work tremendously enhances my understanding of consciousness studies and many related fields.

Verlyn Craig Payton July 20th 2012

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