Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century

Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century

Current mainstream opinion in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind holds that all aspects of human mind and consciousness are generated by physical processes occurring in brains. Views of this sort have dominated recent scholarly publication. The present volume, however, demonstrates_empirically_that this reductive materialism is not only incomplete but false. The authors systematically marshal evidence for a variety of psychological phenomena that are extremely difficult, and in some cases clearly impossible, to account for in conventional physicalist terms. Topics addressed include phenomena of extreme psychophysical influence, memory, psychological automatisms and secondary personality, near-death experiences and allied phenomena, genius-level creativity, and ‘mystical’ states of consciousness both spontaneous and drug-induced. The authors further show that these rogue phenomena are more readily accommodated by an alternative ‘transmission’ or ‘filter’ theory of mind/brain relations advanced over a century ago by a largely forgotten genius, F. W. H. Myers, and developed further by his friend and colleague William James. This theory, moreover, ratifies the commonsense conception of human beings as causally effective conscious agents, and is fully compatible with leading-edge physics and neuroscience. The book should command the attention of all open-minded persons concerned with the still-unsolved mysteries of the mind.

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3 Comments so far »

  1. Dr. Richard G. Petty said,

    Wrote on November 18, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    92 of 96 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Brilliantly Insightful and Destined to be an Instant Classic, January 9, 2007
    Dr. Richard G. Petty (Atlanta) –
    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)

    I think that it was Carl Sagan who said, “You want to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.” This marvelous book shows that open-mindedness is entirely compatible with scientific rigor.

    For the last century, the vast majority psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists have believed that thoughts, emotions and consciousness are the product of physical processes in the brain. Just recently the editor of popular psychology magazine expressed the opinion that the whole of human behavior could be reduced to reflexes.

    This book provides comprehensive and detailed empirical proof that this reductive, materialistic belief is not just incomplete but false. Sagan also said that extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence and this book is full of it. But far from being a catalogue, each piece of evidence and every idea is examined critically.

    The book is broken into nine sections followed by an introductory bibliography of psychical research and exactly one hundred pages of references.

    Chapter 1: A View from the Mainstream: Contemporary Cognitive Neuroscience and the Consciousness Debates
    Chapter 2: F. W. H. Myers and the Empirical Study of the Mind-Body Problem
    Chapter 3: Psychophysiological Influence
    Chapter 4: Memory
    Chapter 5: Automatism and Secondary Centers of Consciousness: – Chapter 6: Unusual Experiences Near Death and Related Phenomena
    Chapter 7: Genius
    Chapter 8: Mystical Experience
    Chapter 9: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century

    It begins with a short history of 20th-century psychology from behaviorism to present-day cognitive neuroscience. This section emphasizes the inability of these theories to account for many important aspects of mind and consciousness.

    We then move to an introduction to the work of Frederick Myers the 19th-century English psychologist whose work supported the view -echoed throughout this book – that the mind is not generated by the brain but is instead limited and constrained by it.

    The next sections present critical reviews of a number of highly reproducible and familiar phenomena including the placebo response, stigmata and hypnotic suggestion. Though well known they demonstrate the influence of mental states on the body. We then move into some less familiar phenomena including some of those produced by yogis and distant influences on living systems. This step-by-step approach is very appealing and leads us to the inescapable conclusion that many of these phenomena are simply inexplicable using a reductionist, materialist approach to the mind and the brain.

    The book presents a strong critique of the notion that memories are ONLY potentiated pathways in the brain. Later sections discuss such disparate topics as memories that survive physical death, near death experiences, automatic writing and out-of-body experiences, apparitions and deathbed visions. I have only a minor quibble about the inclusion of multiple personality disorder, which is controversial and the evidence for it not strong.

    There are some very strong sections on super-normal states and a good critique of some recent attempts to reduce altered states of consciousness – including experiences induced by prayer and meditation – to brain processes. The authors rightly point out many of the limitations of the approach.

    This is an astonishing book that I hope will be widely read despite weighing in at around 800 pages.

    I put it in the same class as Michael Murphy’s The Future of the Body, Ken Wilber’s Sex, Ecology and Spirituality and the less well-known Nature of Consciousness by Jerry Wheatley.

    Very highly recommended.

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  2. Kristen said,

    Wrote on November 18, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

    51 of 53 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Highly Recommended, April 30, 2007
    Kristen (Gaithersburg, MD United States) –

    I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the “mind-body” or more precisely, “mind-brain” problem. It is quite an undertaking at close to 700 pages of writing but in my opinion it was well worth the effort. The authors did well in providing a contextual history and background for those not familiar with the field of psychology and its history.

    The main premise is that mainstream psychology has not yet provided a satisfactory theory of mind. Particularly, the relation of mind to brain has been largely ignored because it has been dominated by a purely materialistic view of the brain which posits that consciousness is generated by processes occurring purely in the brain. The objective of the book is to “provide justification for revisiting the broader and deeper framework of psychology” and the authors use the contributions of F.W.H. Myers, in particular his book Human Personality (1903), as a guide. The first chapter of the book provides relevant background in modern cognitive science. The next chapter summarizes the contributions of Myers to empirical investigation of the mind-body relation which provides the framework for the rest of the book.

    The authors state that much of the available empirical evidence (such as that of psi phenomena) is ignored because it is assumed a priori impossible and caution that scientists must look at all the relevant facts, not just those compatible with current mainstream theory. They argue that it is precisely the valid scientific evidence that seems to conflict with current theory that should “commend the most urgent attention.” The authors state that, “…in order to get an adequate scientific account of the mind we must be prepared to take seriously all relevant data and to modify as necessary even our most fundamental theoretical ideas.” A variety of specific empirical phenomena and aspects of mental life that have not been able to be understood in the current “physicalist conceptual framework” are identified and discussed in detail and make up the bulk of the book. These include: psychophysiological influences, memory, automatism, near death experiences and related phenomenon, genius, and mystical experiences. I must admit that I was one of those scientists who criticized the data supporting so called `anomalous experiences’ (e.g., NDEs, OBEs, psi phenomenon, psychophysiological influences, etc.) a priori without actually researching the available scientific evidence. After reading the extensive summaries of empirical evidence provided in this book my viewpoint has certainly changed. It is obvious that there is a wide variety of evidence supporting these various phenomena and this is certainly an area of research that has been greatly neglected by modern day scientists.

    In the final chapter, “Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century”, the authors re-assess Myer’s theory of human personality and provide a summary of implications of the evidence provided in this book for future research and psychological theory. They urge that psychology should return to the central problem of mind and utilize technological and methodological advances to further study in this field. They point out that most of Myer’s theoretical ideas and the empirical phenomena used to support them are still valid today and have not been “disproven but simply displaced.” The authors also point out some of the weaknesses in Myer’s approach and provide discussions regarding opportunities for further investigation. It is pointed out that the relevance of quantum-theoretic considerations to brain research has not been recognized and research in this area should be pursued and a short discussion on how contemporary quantum physics and neuroscience could support a new theory of the mind is provided. They also briefly describe the theoretical directions in which they believe psychology should go in order to develop a more comprehensive theory of mind-brain interaction that incorporates all the relevant aspect of present-day science.

    For those intrigued by the empirical evidence presented in the book and eager to read more, the authors includes a great Appendix listing serious literature sources with respect to psychical research. A perusal of the “Reference” section also leads to many great sources of information that are available for further reading.

    This is a serious science book and hopefully it will inform young scientists that there is much yet to be learned about the mind and that there are vast areas of research, that have largely been ignored, that should be pursued if we are ever going to be able to develop a proper theory of the mind. As the authors state, scientists should not a priori ignore such empirical evidence because it does not fit within their current theoretical model. Hopefully, this book will encourage scientists to look more closely at the available evidence and promote future research…

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  3. Ben Bendig said,

    Wrote on November 18, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

    10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    The Best Mind/Neuroscience/Psychology Book I’ve Read, November 1, 2010
    Ben Bendig (Los Angeles, California USA) –

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century (Paperback)

    As an advanced graduate student in cognitive psychology, and one very much interested in expanding academic psychology’s rather limited approach to the mind (yes, irony), I find this book to be, well, quite amazing. I’ve read a number of other books on similar topics, but nowhere have I found such an even-handed, fair, and thorough commitment to the truth.

    Chapters 3 and 5-8 are wonderful for truly fascinating phenomena, though that is not to say the other chapters are uninteresting. The whole book is exceptional.

    There is a consistent emphasis on supporting F.W.H. Meyer’s views–the book is a tribute to his work, and modeled after Meyers’s Human Personality–which at times might seem a little much, but shouldn’t. Meyers is indeed a neglected genius, and deserves to be far more well-known than he is. Re-establishing him is an important task and aspect of the book.

    It should definitely be required reading for anyone in or near psychology. For those not in academia, I think it’s still worth reading, though is certainly not paced like a popular science book. But this is because it is far more rich and densely rewarding than most popular science books.

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